Politicizing our memories: Have we forgotten the history of Middle East Baltimore?

 

Our memory is also a struggle for memory against forgetting…The struggle for memory against forgetting requires the politicization of memory, distinguishing nostalgia from remembering that serve to illuminate and transform the present” bell hooks

This morning was overcast, clouds suggesting it may rain at any moment. There was a lot of activity on the 900 block of N. Wolfe street, extending down the 1100 block to Chase Street. The activities being planned were part of the newest addition to the re-branding of the neighborhood. The 7-acre park opening today is part of the 88-acre redevelopment of the Johns Hopkins Biotech Park that started in 2001. This is Middle East Baltimore, slowly being rebranded by the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and its sister non-profits of the ‘non-profit industrial complex’, the city of Baltimore, the state of Maryland, and the new inhabitants who are slowly moving into the neighborhood. ‘Eager Park’ is the new brand. This re-branding is nothing atypical in a developing area. And it’s not atypical either that the name is chosen, or ‘suggested’ by the developers and their proxies-in this case Forest City and East Baltimore Development Inc. (EBDI). But the rebranding this morning is something that we must remember. The remembering that bell hooks talks about. Because if we forget again, we will re-live this process of displacement of another neighborhood again. This remembering is a politicization because it recognizes the power of a continuous exploitation of one group to benefit another and resultant  inequity that exists today.

The new 7-acre, $14 million park in Middle East Baltimore, ‘Eager Park’

The flyers touting the parks’ opening celebrations from 8:30am until 5:00pm included a parade, ribbon cutting, and a festival; a DJ and dancing, several marching bands, and the children from the new school-also part of the 88-acre redevelopment. There would be dance and musical performances and fitness demonstrations in the brand new amphitheater in the park. The name of the park was decided by the developers and their design contractors, ‘Eager Park’.  The hope was that the $14 million park would usher in the re-branding of the area. There was no mention of the history of the naming of the area that the new parks’ name was attempting to erase, forget.

Why forget? It is important for the powerful developers of this 88-acre development assure that we forget that more than 750 Black families were displaced to make room for this 7-acre park and everything else being developed. The initial master plan made no mention that residents were being forced off their land to make room for a park. The rhetoric in 2001 was that displacement had to occur to demolish the almost 2000 homes in this ‘blighted’ and abandoned area. In order to use eminent domain to take private land and pass on to a private developer, the city government partnered with the university, like it did in the 1950s. That time the government policy that subsidized this private developer’s wealth gain was urban renewal. The first master plan in 2001 justified the development using eminent domain to acquire resident’s homes through the rhetoric of public benefit via 8000 new jobs in the 5 biotech parks and the various amenities.  Sixteen years later the project has provided less than 1500 new jobs. The plan made no mention of how the displaced residents would be able to return: it was a one-way ticket out of the area to make room for the new race and class that the powerbrokers felt could ‘renew’ the area. For the prestigious medical institutions and its partners it’s important for those moving in to forget this history or never know it.

The ribbon cutting ceremony in the amphitheater of the new park, with different stakeholders in attendance, including the president of Johns Hopkins University, Ron Daniels, the mayor of Baltimore, Catherine Pugh, City Council president Bernard Jack Young, Senator Nathaniel McFadden

The ribbon cutting ceremony with different stakeholders in attendance, including the president of Johns Hopkins University, Ron Daniels, the mayor of Baltimore, Catherine Pugh, City Council president Bernard Jack Young, Senator Nathaniel McFadden

Why is it important to remember this history? This development happening today is the same type of development that happened in the 1950s. We have mostly forgotten about the 1950s urban renewal project -Broadway Redevelopment Project- where 59 acres was acquired by Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions and its partners for expansion. It was remarkably similar to this current redevelopment-displacement of more than 1000 majority Black families. There was housing for students and staff, professional buildings (now we call these biotech buildings), a hotel, retail and amenities to support the needs of the new inhabitants. This memory is political and is required if we are to ‘illuminate and transform the present’. If we (SMEAC, Save Middle East Action Committee, Inc, the community organization that changed the way the development occurred) had remembered during our struggle for equity during the early years of this current development, we would have leveraged this history. But we didn’t know and those who knew at some point, those who were actually involved in the struggle in the 1950s and 1960s either forgot or felt overwhelmed by the challenge before us. Our collective memory of this history would have confirmed that the political powers of majority White institutions, in Baltimore the Johns Hopkins University and Medical systems, continue to take what they want without regard for their neighbors. We would have confirmed how this continuous exploitation of land on the backs of poor and Black communities is another part of the history of serial forced displacement. We would have affirmed that yet again, the white powerful elite and the government had partnered to segregate those different from themselves by displacing them. Like this current development, the 1950s developers had no intention of assuring that existing residents could return-none did because the new housing was unaffordable for them. Had we known of this history, we would have used this information in our organizing campaign. We would have proposed policy and legislation that would delineate how development must occur: in partnership and with control from the historic residents currently occupying the space. We would have assured that the legislation to build affordable housing was built had more teeth. Because 16 years later, of the 1200 new housing units planned, there remains no affordable housing for ownership.

Today there is a petition by two different community members to rename the park, in line with the history of the area. One of the names suggested is ‘The Lucille Gorham Park’. Recently deceased, Ms. Gorham (who named the community ‘Middle East Baltimore’) was a long-time community activist who lived her adult life attempting to increase public support for renewing her neighborhood, without displacement of her neighbors. Much of her work focused on engaging with different members of the institution to stop the continuous encroachment and gentrification by the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. In the 1980s she received a commitment from the then president of the university that the institution would not expand beyond Madison street. She had participated in a development project in the 1960s –Gay Street 1 Project- where this continuous encroachment was not the only way to change a neighborhood. The Gay Street 1 developed an area of less than 50 acres with a grassroots emphasis, residents made the decisions and participated directly in the master plan and the development. After her years of struggle to stop the university from swallowing up her neighborhood she was eventually displaced for this 88-acre Biotech Park. ‘Eager Park’; the park rolled over the previous commitment by the university not to expand northward beyond Madison. The outcome of forgetting.

Groundbreaking for a new hotel in the 1950s Broadway Redevelopment Project

Groundbreaking for a new hotel in the 1950s-1960s Broadway Redevelopment Project

This morning I chatted with several residents, new and historic. Two of them were residents displaced for this new park; both actually lived on the ground that is now being used for a park. Their comments: “why did we have to move for a park, a park?’; ‘this is a sore spot for me, can’t talk about it”. The new residents felt differently, they saw hope: “ I think the kids will benefit from seeing something different than all those abandoned houses that were here before”. Everyone is speaking from their experiences, what they lived and are living. There is no doubt that the development and its amenities will bring benefit. The questions of ‘who must be sacrificed for the benefit of others’ and ‘why must the  same group of people be sacrificed’ remains unanswered. The question of process and outcome remains unanswered. These are not impossible questions to answer but they are questions that beg us to look into the root of the way we have built our society. Our history can benefit us in looking into these roots. Why were these neighborhoods segregated and disinvested in the first place? Why do we continue to feel justified in segregating those who are most affected by this history of segregation and disinvestment. Memory is political because it reminds us of a history that requires attending to, so we don’t keep doing the same things today and in the future.

Reference: Race, Class, Power and Organizing in East Baltimore: Rebuilding Abandoned Communities in America . Lexington Books, 2012.  Text is available free here. Click on book content.

Who belongs in Baltimore? Community rebuilding must happen for everyone

I attended a conference several weeks ago at the Hyatt Regency on Light Street in Baltimore. So I took the free Circulator bus from Middle East Baltimore and walked along the water to the Inner Harbor. This was pleasant. But along with the pleasure came the awareness of the challenges facing our city. For example, the number of police officers at the ready in the Inner Harbor, ready to remove anyone who did not “look” like they belonged, was questionable. At one point when a person who “looked” like they may be homeless sat down at one of the empty tables in the Inner Harbor, there were 3 police officers who came by and harassed him: “what was he eating? where did he get it? The man said “I’m going, I’m going”. After this harassment they left and a few minutes later the gentleman got up and left. I suppose he would finish eating somewhere he belonged?

Exactly where is that? Is it somewhere where those who “look” like they belong can’t see him, won’t be distressed by his appearance? The saying “out of sight, out of mind” is deep and true. If we don’t see the despair and the obvious separation of how we exist in society, we don’t have to think about it and question why it is some have access while others don’t. Is Baltimore city able to be a home to all of us? Those with means and those without? Those who look like they belong? Those who don’t? What does “belonging look like these days? Obviously the Inner Harbor is being secured for those who “belong”.

The challenge of homelessness and poverty, racism and its continuing legacy, and its root causes continue in Baltimore. The different incidents on my walks through the Harbor and nearby areas confirmed this. Other incidents occurred at the bus stops. One man was sleeping at one stop. Another was sitting with his bag. I wondered how he could exist with only that one bag. I asked about his family: he had 4 children, the first two were twins and now 24 years old. He saw them regularly but not the other two. I offered him an orange then the bus came; that was across from the Reginald Lewis museum. At a stop near University of Maryland, someone asked me for change. I told him about the clutch for my 17 year-old car in the shop and how much that was going to put me back. He then said, “how are you doing?”. We had a conversation about challenges in life and how we take care of them, and ourselves. I offered him a peach and he accepted and left. At one of the 4 stops around Johns Hopkins East Baltimore campus, someone asked me if it was free to ride the Circulator. I responded yes but thought we should have to pay; “why should we ride free when folks taking the MTA have to pay?” We shared that maybe those with an MTA ticket could ride the Circulator for free, the rest pay. This conversation begs the question: who exactly is the Circulator bus for? As we rebuild Baltimore are we all clear as to who we want in the city?

One morning, about 730am, as I was walking across the skywalk from the Inner Harbor pavilions to the Hyatt Regency, I came across a woman sleeping on the steps. sleepShe had 2 paris of socks laid out on the cement to dry. Did she wash them in the fountain water near the steps? She had a sign next to her that said something like, “I lived with my father, then he died, then I lost the house and now am homeless”. Not 20 steps away, I entered the Hyatt Regency, its posh, air conditioned-chilled, and politeness stung me and I thought of the woman on the steps. There seemed so much space in this hotel, taken up with aesthetically-placed chairs to assure its occupants a spacious and easeful feeling. I wondered why couldn’t she access these spaces for the night, to rest. I recognized how artificial the built environment was for some; how much it seeks to create incubators, bubbles of separation and insulation from each other. Eventually we justify it as safety, not questioning the origins of separate and unequal that paved the road to today’s poverty. We don’t want those with access to have to think about those without. How are we rebuilding Baltimore to continue this legacy of separation?

As I walked through Harbor East, just in case the path favoring Baltimore’s inequity and separation did not penetrate enough, a reminder was provided by the recent signage in Harbor East: “Baltimore’s Luxury District: right this way”. luxuryThe cranes to the right and left of this sign, a timeless indicator of economic development and job opportunity, confirm that the city is growing. But for whom? The Harbor Point development on the left will usher in a high-rate cost of living while the expansion of the Four Seasons on the right will usher in luxury condominiums for those with means. In this era of privatization of public services, government gifting of tax incentives to the rich to develop, global permeation of local markets, we still have no plan for how we will assure that everyone who wants to stay in Baltimore benefits. Weak policies for affordable housing with no follow-up for implementation currently exists in Baltimore. No plans for equitable education and social services for our existing residents and no living wage policy exists. The trickle-down economics we believe in hasn’t quite trickled down into majority Black Baltimore where 37% of young Black men are unemployed, compared to 10% young White men. Still our politicians and public officials maintain that the generous benefits of our tax dollars to the wealthy to develop and live in Baltimore will trickle down to the masses. To fulfill this plan of trickle-down economics, we have a Circulator bus running in circles in areas that house the professional and “creative classes”, we have Zip Cars and bike lanes serving the same class. The Mayor’s plan for 10,000 new families in 10 years focuses on rebuilding of houses for $150,000. Low income people cannot afford this. Who will “belong” to Baltimore in the next 10-20 years? The City Paper’s annual “best of” series remind us of what our city leaders consider equitable and sustainable development: best example of gentrification seen in Middle East Baltimore shepherded by EBDI (East Baltimore Development Inc.), Johns Hopkins University and Hospital, Forest City, Annie E. Casey Foundation, and our local and state government. In this development of an 88-acre area just north of the Johns Hopkins Medical campus, our city and state leaders and its well-resourced profit and non-profit leaders are quite comfortable determining who belongs as they assured displacement of more than 750 majority African American and low-income families to make room for a different race and class of people. They know who belongs in our city!

Courtesy of BRACE

Courtesy of BRACE

One morning one rider on the bus reminded me of Baltimore’s resilience: “we can’t wait for them to give us jobs, we have to make our own jobs”. He went on to describe how his cousin made money by dressing up as Santa Claus, buying a camera, and making money during the Christmas season. He had a couple other local entrepreneurial stories like this. Baltimore’s residents need jobs, and support structures which help them to become business owners and not forever at the whim of capitalist anchors such as hospitals, universities, and non-profits. Jobs must provide a living wage so people can afford to live in the places being redeveloped. Only with living wage-jobs will low and middle-income people be able to stay in Baltimore and enjoy the fruits of this economic development occurring around the city. Instead of steering Baltimore city residents into the county-with housing vouchers not being accepted in the city- the city’s economic and community development plans must plan for affordable housing, self-employment, and living-wage employment. Anything else will continue to create the conditions of one-check-away from homelessness increasing around our city. As we prepare to vote for city officials, let’s ask each of them, whether new or old to the position, what they will do about affordable housing and integrative economies that assure local entrepreneurship and living wage-jobs. If our elected officials are not ready or willing to address our housing and employment, education, recreation, transportation, and health challenges in Baltimore, so everyone benefits, vote them out. It’s really simple, we have to vote with our feet and hearts, and not with our mouths.

While we act individually on the political front, we must continue to build our collective movement across multiple issues on a path toward equity for all. In support and elaboration of the Black Lives Matter movement, the southern movement, the Standing Up for Racial Justice movement, and all the university-based movements happening nationwide, we can build a movement to take back our cities so all can participate. Baltimore belongs to everyone who wants to be here.

Re-Building communities: separation or sustainability

Community rebuilding as a means to separation

windowplantUrban rebuilding can be a dualistic/separatist undertaking, benefitting the rich only or one which incorporates the community and benefits all-sustainability. A recent article out of Hagerstown Maryland offers Baltimore city and its cadre of urban rebuilders some great advice: include the community in planning for our community rebuilding or continue rebuilding that leads to divergent paths: those with and those without. In regard the lack of social services for the existing community in current rebuilding plans those working at Hagerstown area nonprofit agencies said: “…they were disappointed that a Philadelphia firm that helped the city come up with a downtown revitalization plan did not address the issues with which that the local organizations deal. Ostoich said Urban Partners, which recommended an eight-part revitalization plan for Hagerstown, has certainly observed situations in other cities that are similar to Hagerstown’s challenges…Ostoich said she would like to see a partnership formed between the nonprofit organizations, the City of Hagerstown and the city’s office of economic development to address issues like homelessness and substance abuse.” link1 Each non-profit providing services for homelessness, housing access and affordability, recovery, mental health and substance abuse treatment, post-incarceration issues, employment reported an increase in their clients and the need for revitalization plans to address these needs.

This is the same pattern of urban rebuilding occurring in Baltimore and beyond: revitalization projects which turn a blind eye to the existing social conditions, many of which are brought about by unemployment and under-employment. Plans do not address the need for recovery programs, or re-entry programs, or mental health programs, or job training, or interview skills, or stress reduction. These conditions are present in Baltimore and other cities which have seen the massive loss of jobs since the 1970’s industrial revolution (substituting machine for human power) and the downturn in the economy since neoliberalism-government joining with private investors to grow their wealth using public subsidies. The outcome of such policies and practices has been the increasing gap between the rich and the poor and the inevitable way vulnerable communities become ill when facing increased stress and little resources to address it. The story in Hagerstown offers a glimpse of what Baltimore has been experiencing for decades: an increase in homelessness, drug use and recovery, mental illness and recovery, unaffordable housing, crime and incarceration. Ostoich speaks about a dual path that revitalization is bringing to the city, one which includes the well-off and those not so well-off. Here in Baltimore we continue to experience the same. Door-knocking and listening in the periphery of the 88-acre Johns Hopkins/EBDI/Casey Foundation/Forest City Bioscience and gentrification project confirms the dual pathway of revitalization. Long time residents share about a fear of not being part of the development as housing prices increase and new neighbors move in. They fear being priced out with property tax increases and rental hikes. New residents are happy with the prices of housing compared to NY or DC and like being in an area marketed for “change” for them. Those with skills and education that allow them to work in corporations and jobs which subsidize housing cost (Live near your work, etc) are mostly happy in their new homes as they wait for more change to manifest around them (one question to ask is how is government subsidizing the employer to offer such housing assistance). Families of generational East Baltimore residents talk about returning from areas north and east but lament the high cost of housing “can’t pay that much but would be nice to come back now that it’s finally changing”. Perceptions of why some locals are home during the day, why some are hanging out on the corner at nights, and the safety of the area persist for the new residents: “I wouldn’t let my mom walk in Patterson Park at night”; while the majority of long time residents don’t mention issues of safety as a concern. Both long time and new residents alike talk about the lack of a place to grocery shop: the type of store will be another tale to tell whether it is affordable for low income residents or not. The new Early Learning Center at the Henderson-Hopkins school is also an issue on people’s mind, especially for those long time residents told they have to be on a waiting list because their income is too high to qualify for admission: “all those Hopkins people have high income and they’re there”. For new residents who are fighting the city about paving an alleyway, they don’t understand why this has to be a struggle: “this is infrastructure of the city, why wouldn’t they pay?” IMG-20121020-00685Indeed, why wouldn’t they pay for this while updating the infrastructure for big development projects in the amount of millions of dollars in tax subsidies is normal, with no effective claw-backs or evaluation as to how the public benefits- Johns Hopkins Medical Institution/EBDI/Casey Foundation/Forest City Developers 78 million, Harbor Point 100 million, Poppleton/La Cite 58 million.

But the marks of a dual path in the rebuilding of Baltimore city goes beyond East Baltimore and West Baltimore. The increased cost of parking across the city is another piece of this dualism as well as the extended times meters are in effect and having to pay to drive the Express Lanes on I-95 (in the White Marsh and 695 region). The Express lanes are accessible with payment only, and in the form of EZ Pass only. These are examples of the separation of those who can afford to participate in what the city has to offer, and those who cannot. If you don’t want to be late you can pay to get on the Express lanes and avoid the merging traffic but when a monthly income is stretched very thin, that extra $3.50 (round trip) can be a significant challenge: in paying your bills and in getting to work on time. Baltimore-20140714-01535This dualistic path of community rebuilding tells the same tale in DC’s 20001 zip code where one shopowner of 40 years posted a sign: “Due to ‘gentrification’ and mixed emotions Jak and Company Hairdressers will be closing”: the landlord would not renew the lease.Link2 Here the white population has grown from 6% in 2000 to 33% currently and the new residents require a different set of amenities. We see the same happening in Harbor East where new development continues while the owners of a local fried chicken and pizza take-out-Kennedy- was told their lease would not be renewed. Just across from the Perkins Homes on Eden and Bank and serving this community for over 15 years his product is not what the new race and class of people being enticed to this area are seeking to buy.Baltimore-20140714-01541

Changing the game for sustainability: community ownership and social movements

This “mixing” of the old and new is a challenge that will not go away today but can begin to be addressed if existing community is at the community rebuilding table. The needs of existing residents and businesses can be addressed in the planning, as well as the needs of the new residents usually represented by the developers whose aim is to attract a class of people able to afford moderate and market rate housing and amenities. Such separation of the old and the new is an age-old challenge of rebuilding and continues today because we continue to ignore the outcomes of previous unhealthy and unequal community building strategies and practices. This chronic disinvestment in low-income and African American and of-color communities has resulted in communities unable to compete in the current market-place for decent employment, over-burdened households with little access to resources, and health burdens that limit access to competitive opportunities. Community rebuilding involving the people as well as the place is crucial. This means assuring equity in not only housing but in employment and resources that will remediate and ready existing communities to benefit from new opportunities. It is not enough for developers like East Baltimore Development Inc. and Forest City to say we cannot hire locally because the people do not qualify (due to incarceration records, drug use, or lack of skill sets). This type of minimalist and separatist community rebuilding is unsustainable and what we have been doing for decades. Like Ostoich said, everyone must be at the table so that the needs of the existing community are incorporated into the plan and not displaced away from sight and sound of the new people. This is why the false type of advertising perpetuated by developers about their rebuilding being “game changers” is misleading and simply provides a narrative for the part of Baltimore with access to resources. In East Baltimore, developers should be ashamed about their contribution to this same ole game of segregation in line with Jim Crow and the removal of Native Americans to reservations. Our policies created our current social challenges and therefore current policies must remediate them. Now that would be a real game changer!

Of course, waiting for government to change, while important is not our only option for change. Organizing and building small and large social movements that challenge the current way we address our most vulnerable is important. Local organizing is key. Many new and old residents alike are unaware of their neighborhood organizations in East Baltimore which is a significant risk factor for not having strong neighborhood cohesion. It is this neighborhood cohesion that offers strength and power to resist government’s plans to rebuild communities without local input. Community fragmentation is an outcome of past and current segregation tactics of community rebuilding. However, it is also a cause of continued segregation and a big obstacle to community power. For example, when a 20-block area has neighborhood associations that don’t communicate with each other or when foundations such as the Annie E. Casey Foundation publicly announces it will only fund one of them (the one with whom it has close relations) collective community power is difficult. Difficult but not impossible. In fact, these same conditions existed in East Baltimore in 2001 and allowed Hopkins/EBDI/Casey/Forest City to come into East Baltimore and expect easy exploitation of land and people. Their expectations were not realized only when the number of people organized exceeded the handful which claimed representation -gate-keepers- of the entire community. The gate-keepers who were willing to stand aside and allow mass exploitation of people and place in the form of unhealthy demolition practices, minimal relocation benefit, minimal payment for existing property were simply outnumbered. The creation of a new organization-Save Middle East Action Committee- then allowed a new vision and practice of community leadership, sisterhood and brotherhood, and mutual respect. Strategies and practices for the people by the people resulted in a powerful force which presented the desires of the impacted people, not a handful with close relations to those with power. We are at a critical impass again almost 15 years later, in East Baltimore, greater Baltimore and beyond.

DSCF6084
Water bills are increasing across the city with little accounting as to why by the city government while private corporations are dictating to government what efficiency looks like, here and across the world. Link3 Private and non-profits are increasingly poised to take over the role of government programs in public education as the new head of Baltimore’s education is leading the way with the promotion of charter schools and privatization. Link4 Using public funds in charter schools skims the little resources away from public schools while private funders manage and dictate educational reform according to their political view. Social service programs are increasingly operated by private and non-profits companies even while race and class-based equity is lacking and little accountability and transparency exists due to their status. This re-distribution of the public wealth into private and the non-profit industrial complexes’ pockets should bare close scrutiny and transparency. We require social movements from below to balance the growing social movements from above and from those with unchallenged power: we need to change the game, truthfully and not leave it to being co-opted by non-profits and private corporations competing for public subsidies. The upcoming social movements gathering/ forum in May in Detroit is one to check into as it will bring together different movements addressing housing access/affordability and water privatization and water as a human right in the US. Link5 Equitable and sustainable community rebuilding requires everyone at the table: to bring about balance and accountability in planning, processes, and implementation, to redistribute power long favored by the few, to move us toward a peaceful co-existence that will heal our segregated communities, and to end old strategies and practices that lead to greater separation and dualism of those with and those without.

Eminent domain and land takings: private gain, yes; public benefit, no.

As we wait for Governor O’Malley’s promised 8000 jobs to materialize to benefit the public in the Johns Hopkins eminent domain-driven expansion into 88 acres of Middle East Baltimore, a recent publication in regard the benefit of eminent domain is of interest.

“Given the controversy surrounding the Kelo decision and the potential implications for long-run economic growth, it is worth investigating the effects of eminent domain for private
benefit. This paper contributes to the current literature by empirically examining the effects on government revenue and revenue growth. …Ultimately, we find virtually no evidence of a statistically significant positive relationship between eminent domain and the subsequent level of state and local tax revenue. In contrast, we find some limited evidence of a statistically significant negative relationship between eminent domain and the subsequent growth of state and local tax revenue. These results are robust across a variety of specifications.
Our results contradict one of the primary arguments often made by politicians in favor of eminent domain activity (and cited as a constitutionally valid justification by the Supreme Court)—that it will increase revenue. One possible explanation for that contradiction is that economic impact studies of new local developments are often plagued by double counting and the omission of opportunity costs. As a result, the subsequent impact on the local economy, and therefore on government revenue, is often much lower than anticipated. While much further work is needed in this area, one implication of our results is that voters ought to be much more
skeptical about politicians’ and developers’ claims regarding the revenue impact of eminent domain activity for private purposes.”

Takings and Tax Revenues: Fiscal impacts of eminent domain.

While private benefit to private developers is consistently clear in redevelopment in our abandoned communities mediated through tax breaks and credits, loans and grants, and contract favoritism and cronyism, Harvey’s analysis of the dispossession of black and brown communities during the foreclosure crisis provides a necessary comparison. He asserts that the 40-80 billion in assets lost in the African American and Latino/a communities during the foreclosure crisis parallels the 40-80 billion gain for the Wall Street gang during the same time period. These relationships of wealth lost through dispossession of land in black and brown communities and wealth gain in private corporations must be quantitatively confirmed. Because we know such studies will not be initiated by government-who facilitate private capital in wealth dispossession of our most vulnerable-it is up to community-driven organizations, think tanks, and community activists to take it up. Waiting for those who steal from the poor to tell us exactly how much they gained from their thievery does not benefit the poor.

David Harvey

The displacement of the people in Middle East Baltimore was trumpeted by politicians and Johns Hopkins, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and its sister followers as benefiting those impacted by historical segregation and systematic disinvestment. The health of the people would be impacted positively was the consistent media soundbite. Some studies continue to affirm that voluntary relocation of residents during development provides a positive impact on health, greater in some than others. However, a careful analysis of all of the impacted residents in communities targeted for redevelopment shows a different picture. Research by Sabriya Linton and others confirm that drug activity which was previously localized in the Middle East community before displacement/redevelopment was decreased after displacement but correlated with an increase in drug activity in neighborhoods where residents were relocated-shown by number of calls for narcotic services. Such data confirms the historic and current redevelopment practices which intend only to remove the ‘faces of poverty’ but not to help or remediate the causes or social or health consequences of poverty. This study shines light on the disrespect of and lack of benefit to local residents by the powerful stakeholders who ignored the organized efforts of residents of Middle East Baltimore demanding greater benefit for their entire community, social programs to help those in need, and work force development processes which would ready their community to benefit from the redevelopment. This research by Lipton adds to the data showing the intention and result of this redevelopment project of Johns Hopkins and its development proxy, EBDI, to ignore and displace its existing community partner in an attempt to expand to attract a whiter and richer population to be its neighbors-gentrification.
S-1. Linton et al. J Urban Health 2014

These data offers us evidence of the capitalist means of expansion-through dispossession of land and human right to health and safety- mediated by a premier hospital and research and teaching university willing to ignore the health and social needs of its community neighbor. We are offered a glimpse of the definition of what so-called anchor institutions actually intend to carry out in the communities they inhabit.(submitted for publication, From Anchor Institutions to Anchored Communities: Displacement, Ethics, and Countering the Threat to Public Health Lawrence Brown et al). In fact, this pattern of development through displacement dates back more than a century and continues today under new labels: urban redevelopment, community revitalization, RAD, Choice neighborhoods, HOPE VI, Promise zones- mediated not through industrial capital but private:public partnerships and neoliberal practices.

Social health, neoliberalism, and gentrification

What is meant by social health? And what does neoliberalism and gentrification have to do with health? In rebuilding communities through neoliberal practices that result in displacement, homelessness, and gentrification the health of the community is affected (1). The fact is that the social, political, and economic systems in a society such as the US affect the health of individuals and populations. These systems separate and place economic, social, and political values on populations according to categories of race/ethnicity, income level, education level, gender, immigrant status, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, place of birth, dominant language, physical and mental ability, and age. The socioeconomic and political economic systems use these hierarchies to determine our place in society which in turn determines our health.

Using race and class identity as examples, individuals who discriminate based on these two factors will negatively affect the psychological and physical health of low income people of color through the stress experienced daily by the effects of their implicit bias (2, Implicit Attitude Test, Experience of Discrimination). On an institutional level, the health outcomes of low income communities of color during redevelopment is partially determined by the discriminatory neoliberal policies and practices-a norm of the socioeconomic and political economic systems of the US. Such practices/policies include: policies which allowed disinvestment of low-income neighborhoods, mayoral-governments partnered with private developers, legislators passing and funding racist laws, lack of policies/laws which demand affordable housing and local hiring, city and state officials enacting education, housing, transportation policies and practices which benefit wealthy developers and displace community residents, developers building only market-rate housing in low and moderate-income communities, planning boards lacking community participation, corporate university and philanthropic boards who approve cleansing of low income and of color communities. Besides the collective stress experienced from being forced to move, the lack of affordable housing and products, the fear of eventual displacement, lack of ability to have decision-making in your community, displacement to other under-resourced communities (in school, livable employment, access to healthy and affordable food, infrastructure that allows physical activities, safety) are risk factors for poor health outcomes. Such neoliberal rebuilding practices which lead to displacement and gentrification can only occur in societies where the political economic and socioeconomic systems support them. This is the concept and action of social health, neoliberalism, and gentrification.

The mechanisms of neoliberal processes in community rebuilding such as tax subsidies and exemptions, rezoning, lack of transparency and accountability, ‘shadow governments’ of developers and corporate foundations navigated through public:private partnerships, state redistribution of land to private entities, propaganda media, greed, devaluing of non-productive members of society, non-participatory planning in community rebuilding and its social health impacts must be identified, reported, challenged, prevented-again and again. Such practices unleashed in communities of low and moderate income and color find little resistance due to the political economy of development capital and state politics. This process of community rebuilding is supported by strong ties between the developer and government which overwhelms the power of the local community to demand equitable development and community participation-there are minimal ties between the local community and government (3). Newly organized communities are displaced to different parts of the city, some county, loosing the growing power-base and social capital which could challenge the powerful developers and public partners. Because of the unfair advantage of such public:private partnerships social capital/economic and political benefit is accumulated disproportionately by the powerful developers.

For example, displacement of communities of low-income and color disinvested by government and neighboring institutions, for expansion of a prestigious institution like Johns Hopkins results in stress for residents and poor health outcomes: gentrification and health. The disruption of social networks, root shock, results in acute and chronic trauma to residents as they loose their familiar base and try to anchor themselves in new neighborhoods (4). Such continued serial displacement is a major social determinant of continued poor health outcomes. Children are particularly susceptible to these changes and have difficulty establishing new peer groups (5). In this example, neoliberal practices through public:private partnerships of the university, Annie E. Casey Foundation and others, and the city planned and carried out displacement, demolition, and construction of a new place/community unaffordable to previous residents and the peripheral communities. After more than 800 households were displaced less than 10% low income and minority families have been allowed back to inhabit the more than 700 units rehabbed or newly constructed to date. Construction of a new contract school, managed by JHU and supervised by a board of directors led by Hopkins assures that the neoliberal agenda of dispossession of education occurs-another risk factor for health (6, 7). This new school which selectively engineers a ratio of white and non-white, poor and non-poor for their neoliberal formula of experimental ‘urban’ education continues. The right of existing residents to attend the school is ignored, preference is offered to the powerful university and affiliates, while the department of education requires no meetings for transparency or accountability, and the wealthy developer and corporate philanthropists of Casey and other foundations continue on unimpeded. The school is a magnet for gentrification, attracting the race and class of people comfortable to the powerful Johns Hopkins University. Whether the children of the surrounding neighborhood have access to this new school is a determinant of health. Access to early childhood development resources and education is a determining factor for health of children as they grow to adulthood. Neoliberalism, gentrification, and the new urban education are factors determining the social health of East Baltimore and Baltimore because the neighborhoods displaced residents are forced to move into may be similarly disinvested, contributing to diminished health. Residents must be able to stay in the neighborhoods undergoing revitalization and participate in all the amenities (education, parks, housing, health, employment, transportation): this is a more participatory model of community rebuilding-one which emphasizes community participation before development to ensure that participation continues during and after, and does not result in gentrification, displacement, segregation and poor health. How do we do that?

Alameda County Public Health Department (ACPHD) along with Causa Justa:Just Cause’s (CJJC) recent report shows the negative health effects on communities in the Bay Area undergoing gentrification (8). Among others, they recommend Health Impact Assessments (HIA) before development occurs to determine potential negative health outcomes caused by gentrification and displacement; their recommendations emphasize the necessity of community participation in all processes of development. In 2009 similar recommendations were made by the Association of Bay Area Governments and Policy Link. However the current recommendations by ACPHD and CJJC is the first to directly show quantitative changes in population health during all stages of gentrification processes, clarifying the health consequences of displacement. HIAs can also be used to substantiate the need for community-driven rebuilding processes as done by the Los Angeles Community Action Network. They used a HIA to leverage a commitment for more than $20 million to limit displacement through affordable housing, local hiring, support for tenant rights and preventive health programs.

In 2003, Save Middle East Action Committee, Inc. requested that Hopkins/East Baltimore Development Inc. conduct a HIA before demolition and rebuilding began. This was particularly important because the majority of the housing stock was built during the period of lead-based paint and because previous studies of demolition by the university showed contamination of the surrounding air with lead. Even with this evidence, the timeline of the university’s first Biotech building was more important than the health of low income and African American residents. This type of public:private development project ignored the health of residents then just as a current development project in Los Angeles targeting public housing conversion into a mixed-income development is attempting to ignore the health of low income people of color (9). Such racism and classism driving neoliberal community rebuilding chooses to ignore existing communities where the majority of residents are people of color with little resources and the lowest life expectancy. These and previous examples confirm that the value placed on low income and racial/ethnic minority communities are minimal compared to that of higher income and white communities, and that the growth of inequitable power in majority white and higher income communities will continue to drive these unhealthy socioeconomic and political economic practices.

Gentrification and its neoliberal agenda has arrived in full force in the 21st century. New York’s Brooklyn and the Bronx, Sommerville, Portland, Chicago, Denver, and DC are facing the effects of gentrification and unaffordable housing, all risk factors and outcomes of displacement and negative health outcomes (10-16). Cities implementing new transportation systems face similar risk of gentrification and displacement as reported by a 2010 report: Maintaining Diversity in America’s Transit-rich neighborhoods: Tools for equitable neighborhood change (17). Neoliberalism’s new attire of greater public:private partnerships with the propaganda of equitable public benefit supported by the media drives gentrification through accumulation of land by the wealthy and dispossession of civil rights of the disenfranchised- in the US and abroad (18). Such inequitable societies lead to inequitable health of individuals and populations as seen with life expectancy differences between the rich and the poor of up to 19 years (19). Confronting and ending these violations of human rights through coalition building across struggles for equity of race, income, housing, food, education, environment and all other social factors is necessary and possible. It may be the only possible way to reclaim a collective right to occupy the city, making it balanced, healthy, and whole.

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1.Gomez M. Poverty of health. In Race, class, power, and organizing in East Baltimore: Rebuilding abandoned communities in America. Lexington 2012.
2.Implicit Attitude Test
Experience of Discrimination Test
3. Public:private partnerships and rebuilding communities
4. Fullilove MT. 2001. Root shock: how tearing up American neighborhoods
5. The Importance of Evaluating the Population Health Impact of Public Housing Demolition and Displacement
6. Harvey D. 2005. A brief history of neoliberalism. Oxford University.
7. Lipman P. The new political economy of urban education: neoliberalism, race, and the right to the city. 2011 New York and London. Routledge.
8. Development without displacement: Causa Justa:Just Cause
9. Gentrification in Los Angeles, LA Community Action Network
10. Gentrification in NY
11. Gentrification in Bronx, NY
12. Gentrification in Sommerville, MA
13. Gentrification in Portland, OR
14. McMillen DP, McDonald J. 2004. Reaction of House Prices to a New Rapid Transit Line: Chicago’s Midway Line, 1983–1999. Real Estate Economics
15. Gentrification in Denver, CO
16. Gentrification in DC
17. Transportation and gentrification
18. Gentrification in London
19. Life expectancy between rich and poor

Gentrification, inequality, and the paths toward housing equity

  

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Luxury apartments replace public housing in East Baltimore

This writing associates gentrification and inequality with the understanding that association is not causation. Further studies are analyzing the relationship between gentrification and inequality and vice versa. In the mean time, glance at the table compiled from two reports: Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank on cities undergoing gentrification through 2009 and Brookings Institute on inequality in cites in 2012. Seven out of the top 10 cities experiencing gentrification and inequality are the same: Boston, NYC, San Francisco, Washington DC, Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles. While the years are not consistent across the reports for a rigorous comparison it suggests a pattern of association. In the Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank report on gentrification in cities Baltimore is ranked the highest in cities with low price land tracts (95% of land tracts are low price land tracts). However for the period studied -between 2005 and 2009- only 5% gentrification occurred in these tracts. (1) This is consistent with BNIA (Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance) data showing an increase between 2005 and 2007 but leveling off into 2009 (See June 2013 post on this site for graph of rebabbed houses in Baltimore as a proxy for increased house value).

Top 10 cities gentrified 

2005-2009*

Top 10 cities with largest income inequality 2012#
Boston Atlanta
Seattle San Francisco
New York City Miami
San Francisco Boston
Washington, DC Washington, DC
Atlanta New York City
Chicago Oakland
Portland Chicago
Tampa Los Angeles
Los Angeles Baltimore
*http://www.clevelandfed.org/
research/trends/2013/1113/01regeco.cfm
#Brookings Inst. Rpt

In the Brookings Institute report Baltimore ranked 10th out of 50 big cities in the US for the greatest gap between the rich and the poor in 2012. (2)  This current income inequality may reflect more recent gentrification processes which have occurred subsequent to 2009.

There are two big initiatives of revitalization ongoing in Baltimore, one a legacy of a previous mayor (now governor) and the other of the current mayor: 1)The ‘college town gentrification project”:  the big players are U of Maryland, U of Baltimore, Maryland Institute College of the Arts on the west side and Johns Hopkins on the east side (3) and 2) ‘10,000 families in 10 years’ targeting recent immigrants, lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgendered communities, Washingtonians who want lower-priced water views. One tool for these projects is the ‘Vacants to Value’ program initiated by the current administration which aims to sell vacant  property at low cost to new residents  as an invitation into the city. Several  reports from existing residents reveal they are not given equal opportunity to purchase vacant property through this program. The socially engineering project of constructing a new Baltimore is determined to rebuild it with people of a different race and class and de-concentrate the existing fabric of this inner city. In addition the recent report from Baltimore Brew regarding the city’s plan to sell public housing buildings to private developers/managers with no transparency to the public as to the long term plans for these buildings will add to further displacement and likely gentrification. (4) The Housing Department has the right to negotiate on behalf of current and future residents to assure that these units remain affordable yet the public remains uninformed as to these details. Dispersing housing vouchers to current tenants may allow low-income residents to move to areas with better socioeconomic status but it does not guarantee increased income for them to afford the goods and services of these different neighborhoods. In fact the current data shows no consistent patterns of increased employment for low-income residents forced to move when public housing is planned for demolition. (5) The results of these rebuilding and gentrification processes will be important to track to determine correlation between the changing higher income earners in the city, the predicted 28% increase in housing prices in Baltimore, and the income and housing value of displaced and existing lower income residents-the inequality gap. (6)

7-11 in the Johns Hopkins Rangos Building does not accept food stamps

New 7-11 in the Johns Hopkins Rangos Building in East Baltimore gentrification does not accept food stamps, dictating who is invited into the community

Gentrification results in a different class and often race of people inhabiting a previously disinvested area. (7) This results in increased taxes, better public infrastructure/services, greater investment in education, recreation (bike lanes, human/dog parks) etc with the consistent effect of displacing existing residents who cannot afford the increased taxes, services, and merchandise in the area.Displacement of local businesses occurs secondary to new residents desiring different products, usually more costly. Does this lead to greater inequality/gap between the rich and the poor? It can if people are unable to afford something they previously afforded (home, taxes, products, services) whether in their current neighborhood or neighborhood of displacement. In the current neighborhood the new higher income residents create a market that drives housing prices up, as well as services and products. For a low-income earner moving into a higher income neighborhood because of displacement they still pay a higher percentage of their income for the housing if more affordable housing is not constructed in the area. If existing residents have increased costs to live but no increased income to support these costs, there is less left over after housing expenses.

These initiatives of the past and current mayors seek to increase higher income earners while little has been done to train the existing workforce to be competent to benefit from the projected new jobs and assure increased income that can afford the increased cost for housing, products, services and taxes. Neither has there been affordable housing planned to accommodate the displaced residents unable to afford the rising cost of housing and property taxes. Many of the neighborhoods targeted for revitalization include communities which have been disinvested and under-resourced in education, health care, nutrition, recreation, libraries and all the other assets that support a thriving and healthy community. The outcomes of such disinvestment over time result in the health disparities-including drug and alcohol addiction, development delays, lead poisoning, high incarceration rates, depression, anxiety- we witness in Baltimore and similar urban cities of low income and color. (8) This default of benefit to the higher income residents continues the status quo of growing health and wealth inequality supported by powerful public-private partnerships.

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East Baltimore expansion of 88 acres anchored by Johns Hopkins University

The struggle for equity in housing rights for communities of low income and color  targeted for the negative impacts of gentrification and greater inequality continues. In Baltimore residents in Middle East organized and challenged Johns Hopkins University, the city government, Annie E. Casey Foundation and other powerful stakeholders for fair market value for their homes, equitable relocation costs, and healthy demolition processes after being targeted for displacement by eminent domain. (9) Residents in Washington DC organized and established cooperative housing when their rental building was threatened for developer buy-out (10) In Brooklyn tenants organized and formed a union to assure they can stay in their rental housing after private landlords threaten them to move and increase rent in a quickly gentrifying area. (11)  In California Oakland is addressing workforce development in the creative arts and San Francisco is assuring residents are not further pushed out by gentrification (12). To address the issue of increasing property taxes which force out existing residents Philadelphia, Boston, Pittsburg, and New York have introduced or passed legislation either capping or extending payment for property taxes. (13) Legislation to mandate a set target of affordable housing being built in all new housing developments and a set target of local hires, workforce training for eligibility for employment, and social programs to assure eligibility can be tools to assure more equitable housing and employment which will sustain incomes and prevent displacement. (14) There is  more discussion about how to prevent gentrification once revitalization begins in adjacent neighborhoods and online media has served as a platform for raising greater awareness of this issue. (15) Lastly, anti-displacement strategies have and can include city, regional, and federal-sponsored research and planning to assess potential for current affordable housing stock and likelihood of displacement as a result of revitalization and funding for  prevention strategies. (16)  An example of a plan to prevent displacement secondary to planned revitalization in Somerville, MA was recently released by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council of Somerville  suggesting a need for 9,000 new affordable units to assure no displacement occurs (17). Besides organizing at the community level planning and training upcoming leaders to replace current leadership at the city, state, and federal levels, who ignore and support the negative effects of gentrification and inequality through private:public partnerships, is occurring and remains a critical path toward housing equity (18)

The media: informing or covering up corruption

The recent reporting by two of Baltimore’s local print periodicals was telling of the role of the media in attempting to educate us or cover up and allow political corruption. The examples are the reporting on the 88-acre Johns Hopkins expansion in East Baltimore by The Daily Record and The Baltimore Sun. The Daily Record’s reporting (“EBDI gets $2.5M to raze houses”. 12/12/2013) on the additional millions granted to EBDI (the development proxy for Hopkins and the city) assured us that the government continues to finance a private corporation’s expansion through funding demolition of property (from which more than 800 African American and low-income families were displaced) for construction of market-rate housing. This housing is necessary to accommodate the families being attracted to assure gentrification of the rebuilt area. Two days later The Baltimore Sun’s (“East Baltimore development moves to next phase”, 12/14/2013) report of the same plan for demolition forgot to inform us of the source of the funding for this demolition. Instead it focused on the ‘progress’ made by EBDI in building affordable housing. It did not elaborate as to who the existing homes were affordable to.

Letters to the editor were submitted to both periodicals; only the Daily Record chose to publish. Both letters are attached for your reading pleasure. Daily Record, let-to-ed; BaltSun,let-to-ed

Two days ago another report by the Baltimore Sun informed us of the opening of the new school, Henderson-Hopkins, as part of the Hopkins expansion (“East Baltimore students start new year in new school”, 1/2/2014). It informed us about the progress made by this expansion and again forgot to inform us of the school’s use as a magnet to attract a certain race and class of people: white and middle and upper-class. It forgot to mention that no outreach was done with local residents to assure timely application for school enrollment. It failed to tell us about outreach to the Hopkins East Baltimore campus’s students and employees who were given information well in advance of the deadline for application. It also failed to tell us about the two new retail businesses in the expansion area which caters to the ‘new’ race and class of people Hopkins and the city is seeking to attract to this school: a 7-11 which does not accept food stamps and a Walgreens whose prices are so expensive that local residents report they have to continue to trek all the way to North avenue’s Walgreens for the same item at lower costs.

But this bias in news reporting is not new to any of us familiar with the now 12-year rebuilding process of Middle East Baltimore. From the start this $1.8 billion project’s vision has been consistently directed by the Johns Hopkins University, Martin O’Malley and his administration at the local and state levels, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation. To date the majority of local and national media sources have been lacking in transparent reporting to aid the public in holding this heavily publicly-subsidized project accountable. Most have long histories with the powerful stakeholders who individually and together, directly and indirectly, control the finances and therefore the action of the people, organizations, programs, and enactment of policies, and laws of the city of Baltimore and the state of Maryland.

Still, the role and future of journalism is defined exactly at moments like this when truth-telling stands up to power and editors and journalists reach for a higher standard and do not fear for their careers or being popular with the elite. The highest journalistic integrity suggests principles such as truth, accuracy and factual knowledge. The public relies on this highest integrity to inform us of truth and/or corruption that we can determine how and when to act for fair government and transparency to the people. Shall we remain hopeful that the new year will bring forward more courage, facts, and truth-telling in journalism in Baltimore and beyond?

Redevelopment policies and implications for health

Excerpt from Introduction of ‘Race, Class, Power, and Organizing in East Baltimore’:

Health Outcomes
Socioeconomic and political oppression of African American people throughout the history of America has directly resulted in the creation of neighborhoods of urban decay and poverty in the 21st century, which in turn affects the health of individuals living in these neighborhoods. The unequal and discriminatory laws and policies resulted in disinvestment and marginalization of communities in which majority African American lived leading to unhealthy physical environments of unsanitary, abandoned, and run-down streets, schools, parks, health clinics, recreation centers, stores, and houses, and high crime. The consequences or effects of living in such disinvested neighborhood, help to determine exposure to different levels of stress faced daily by individuals living, playing, working and learning in these communities as well the internal and external resources available to address these stressors in a healthy way.
The effect of having a low-paying job or no job, being African American or part of a racial minority, and education below high school level independently and together affects the health of an individual. These socioeconomic factors or social determinants increase the likelihood of an individual having a variety of physical and mental illnesses and a shorter lifespan.
The neighborhood effects and social and economic characteristics of individuals living in East Baltimore, together and individually, resulted in East Baltimore being characterized as one of the least healthy communities in America.
Community rebuilding efforts must therefore assess the communities’ health history and assure that the processes of rebuilding are participatory and not hierarchical as has been the intention and practice of EBDI and its partners. Rebuilding with input and direction from those living in the community can begin to change the historic oppressions that have directly and indirectly contributed to creating unhealthy communities. Assessment of the health impact, as well as the economic, social, educational, environmental, and political impact, on the people affected by community rebuilding processes must be included in an analysis of “benefit for whom.”
For those who organize and challenge the powerful stakeholders for more equitable rebuilding processes, the consequent health impact of increased stress must be assessed in light of the already existent stress resulting from living in abandoned and disempowered communities. These types of analyses must be incorporated into the strategies for rebuilding communities like Middle East Baltimore in order to address the historic damage and narrow the gap of unequal benefit to the stakeholders involved today. Such comprehensive analyses will begin to address the power imbalances which serve to widen the growing disparity in health between communities with differing degree of resources and which are separated by race and class.

For more specific discussion of the effects of unfair development as a social determinant of health and potential mechanisms for poor health outcome see chapter 9, ‘Poverty of health’.

This link ( Development and health) provides a PDF of a presentation at Morgan State University on October 22, 2013 highlighting the health effects from the racist and classist development policies and practices that have shaped our cities in America.

Enjoy and organize!!

Organizing Against the Academic Industrial Complex

Join us at 2640 St. Paul Street in Baltimore for an exciting and revealing discussion about the Academic Industrial Complex: highlighting the activities of Syracuse and Johns Hopkins and organizing efforts to to challenge these powerful land grabbers…presented by John Burdick and Marisela Gomez
Hosted by 2640 and Red Emma’s

link to flyer