The neighborhood of Brentwood Village in Baltimore, Maryland is undergoing some changes. Residents of the area agree that there is need for change. But like residents in other parts of the city currently undergoing rebuilding they feel they should be included in the changes. And participation should include not only home owners; it should include renters-of public and privately owned houses-, businesses, churches.
In the 3-block area bordered by Barclay, Biddle, Brentwood, and Chase undergoing bulldozing and preparation for development one renter of public housing feels the disrespect for community residents like herself should stop. To make her point very clear, she has refused to move from her city-owned rental housing. In late 2010 she received the first public notice from the Housing Authority of Baltimore (HABC) -which owns and manages subsidized housing for low-income residents- alerting her and her family that they would have to move in approximately 90 days to make room for a development project. The other residents in these 3 blocks also received similar notices. Ms. Williams advised them to wait and find out whether they could stay and be part of the rebuilt community. Some residents of the area had been there for more than 20 years. Ms. Williams lived in her house on Barclay street for 39 years and felt the residents of the area should have been involved in the plans for development and given an opportunity to stay. Ten years previously she tried to buy her house and the one adjacent to provide a home for homeless people. After asking the officials at HABC about what would be developed in her neighborhood she still does not know. The latest rumor is that it will be a football stadium built by nearby St. Francis Academy. More than one year since she received notice to move, her house remains standing with the adjacent one to allow structural security. The houses across and adjacent to these have been demolished. Ms. Williams will appear in court on January 22, 2013 to defend herself against a city department which has violated her rights as a citizen.
This non-participatory process of community redevelopment continues in Baltimore city unchallenged by many of us. It is important to note that this type of non-inclusion of residents in plans to redevelop their community typically occurs in historically disinvested communities of color and low-income neighborhoods. Recent evidence of this pattern is the current 88-acre redevelopment project in Middle East Baltimore where the majority African American and low-income and working poor residents learned through the newspaper that their homes would be bulldozed to make room for a Johns Hopkins expansion project.
Maybe it is time for all of us to look a little deeper at the pattern of human rights violation that occurs when governmental institutions partner with private institutions-corporations such as universities, hospitals, etc- in non-community participatory rebuilding practices. When community members have no opportunity to participate in what occurs in their community, their rights as citizens are violated. This consistent pattern of disrespect and human rights violation to our communities of low income and color require evaluation and change. Residents of these communities have often lived through years of disinvestment and resultant deterioration in their communities; they deserve to participate in development plans and to benefit from the improvements.This type of human rights violation would not occur in Federal HIll or Roland Park.
Instead we continue to segregate and concentrate communities of lesser resources which increases the growth of income inequality. Let us call on those who remain with some ethic in our government to convene a panel and investigate the history of public-private partnerships and their resultant benefit to the public. Before we continue to hand off greater public responsibility to private enterprises in the guise of community and economic development let us investigate how they have or have not contributed to the growing gap between the rich and the poor-in health and wealth-in Baltimore city. All the citizens of Baltimore deserve this type of investigation because the growing gap between the rich and the poor affects us all.