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.

Participatory democracy: right-to-vote, right to participatory development, and the right of government to prevent foreclosure

Right to vote in Hong Kong

Assuring democracy in countries which claim democratic governments is already difficult! What about countries which make no qualms about non-democratic systems of government? The current struggle in Hong Kong for voting rights in Hong Kong’s upcoming election is just that. Residents of Hong Kong are demanding that they have representative vote of their region’s interest in the new chief executive-governing leader- and have been ignored by the powerful government bodies of China and Hong Kong. (1) In response students in Hong Kong have taken to the streets and occupied them, initially called Occupy Central. This has expanded to the general public now called ‘the Umbrella Revolution or Movement’. Their intention is to gain support for their demands for some form of participatory democracy. This past weeks’ demonstrations witnesses this struggle and has garnered solidarity across the globe-from US to Germany, Australia to Belgium, UK to Canada. (2) In spite of such massive turnouts and show of people power protesters have met with violence from the police authority as well as anti-democratic thugs. The occupation of public space continues today with people camping on streets as Hong Kong demands public / human rights to determine their lives-participatory democracy. (3)

Right to equal participation in development in DC and Baltimore:participatory development

In the District of Columbia, public housing residents have been organizing and demanding that the city government and housing authority stop development which threatens their displacement and continue gentrification. OneDC, a local grassroots organization has led the momentum for resident-owned and -driven development for many years. Now they confront city officials to demand that they are part of all development plans which involve their community. (4) Such a demand, representation in decisions that affects your life, seems quite reasonable and certainly would be an assumption for those in power. But for these same individuals who make decisions for public housing residents, their exclusion of residents from planning seems to suggest that these rights should not be afforded to low-income and of-color communities. Such blatant discrimination in housing and community development and urban planning in the US is meeting greater challenge as evidenced by OneDC’s challenge to the powerful stakeholders’ deciding the faith of public housing residents in the ‘People’s Platform’. (4) They are demanding participatory development.

In Baltimore, RHA (Right to Housing Alliance) and residents have led the charge to assure HUD’s recent program to privatize public housing (RAD, Rental Assistance Demonstration) does not leave residents with no rights. While some have called for minimizing or removing private capital from this demonstration project, Baltimore has demanded that residents remain a direct party in the decision-making between management and tenants. (5,6) Even though everyone would expect such a right, HABC appears to feel that public housing residents should relinquish their rights to decision-making in their homes. Such discrimination by Baltimore’s city leaders, supported by neo-liberal policies and programs of the US continue to assure that those without power remain separated from and at the mercy of those with power. RHA has organized and rallied in support of more transparent decision-making and negotiation on contracts being formulated for private developers-demanding participatory development. (6, scroll down for full article by Cohen).

The development for community equity has not found a foothold in Baltimore as yet, but we have hope that participatory development will rise up in Baltimore. The recent project announced in Sharp Leadenhall could potentially lead to more gentrification or equity: dependent on resident’s organizing and assuring a place at the decision-making table with a Community Benefits Agreement in hand for negotiation. (7) Anything else would leave too much dependence on the developer to make a ‘good-faith’ effort to accomplish in regard benefit to existing community. In the past, these ‘good-faith’ efforts, whether in legalize or verbal, have amounted to nothing. This is evidenced by the current Hopkins/EBDI/Casey development in East Baltimore which continues to project moderate and market rate housing, more Hopkins buildings, a school to attract higher income residents, a hotel and a park intended to benefit new residents while affordable housing or permanent employment for local residents remain missing. East Baltimore residents may well heed West Baltimore’s lead in suing the state of Maryland for development of transit-Red Line train system- which excluded their participation in deciding on a route which will disrupt their community and cause harm. (8) All of these development projects continue to receive large government subsidies in the form of new market tax credits, state grants and loans, TIFs, and PILOTs. The city of Baltimore could easily assure that these government subsides make their way back into the pockets of residents by legislating affordable housing in each development is assured for 99 years, a living wage is paid by all new businesses which receive government subsidies, and mandating local/co-op business ownership in each development area. New York City recently legislated a realistic living wage mandate for development and businesses which receive more than $1 million in city subsidies. (9) The current wage of $7.25/hr required by law in the state of Maryland will do absolutely nothing to lift working class people out of poverty, if they benefit from employment in new or ongoing development projects-some ongoing development projects are exempt from recent local-hiring mandates exempting major developments that have benefitted unfairly from public subsidies such as the Hopkins project in East Baltimore. Until we revolutionalize the accepted unjust and neo-liberal policies and practices governing housing, community, and economic development in Maryland we will continue to grow the health and wealth disparity gap in Baltimore, already ranked in the top 10 (of 50 big cities) in regard income inequality. (10)

Government can prevent foreclosure

Across the US citizens affected by the foreclosure crisis-an outcome which was enabled by the banking industry and real estate groups- are demanding their rights through legal strategies. Several cities are challenging the courts to allow city governments to use eminent domain to take late or default mortgages and negotiate with residents for a more affordable rate. For example, New Jersey admits that this strategy may force banks to negotiate with owners for fear of their mortgages being taken by the city through eminent domain. (11) Richmond, California has already implemented eminent domain to seize mortgages greater than the value of homes with San Francisco pending a decision next week on similar strategies. The two cities are considering pooling resources and promoting a national movement toward taking underwater mortgages back from lenders and offering home owners a more affordable mortgage. (12) The use of eminent domain in this way forces lenders who participated in driving up the housing market through loans based on ghost collateral to re-negotiate in more just ways with those they offered credit. City governments willing to stand up for public rights welcome in a new era of democratic participation through public offices. Cities which continue to document foreclosure challenges, like Baltimore, would benefit from similar strategies for participatory democracy. (13)

participatory democracy

1. Live stream from Occupy Central / Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong
2. Solidarity for Hong Kong across the world
3. Ongoing coverage from Hong Kong news sources
4.People’s Platform for an Equitable DC
5. Rental Assistance Demonstration Program
6. Right to Housing Alliance, RHA
7. Proposed mega-project in Sharp-Leadenhall get tentative support
8. W. Baltimore homeowners sue state to block Red Line
9. DeBlasio to raise living wage
10. Gentrification, inequality, and the paths toward housing equity.
11. New Jersey Mayor address foreclosure problems
12. San Francisco to decide on eminent domain to prevent foreclosures
13. 2007-2013 foreclosure data in Baltimore, MD

Educational and geographic segregation, generational racial poverty: can we build something different in Baltimore?

The gap between the educated and uneducated, segregated by place or geography, is not new to America. This new study by Diamond out of Stanford University however confirms that there is greater geographic segregation between those with and without education and access to resources over the past 20 years. (1) Per the report the current income gap between those with and without a college education is 75% and results in an affordability gap, in housing, education, and other amenities. This results in neighborhoods and cities becoming more segregated by education and income. “Rising college share then improves local amenities and productivity, leading to a more desirable city, which again benefits the college educated at the expense of lower skill workers forced to relocate elsewhere. These types of policies force the local policy maker to decide whether he or she wants to improve the city at the possible expense of less skilled inhabitants’ economic well-being.” The study confirms that the lack of sufficient resources in low-income neighborhoods and the resultant place-based inequities that predict health disparities. (2) What is lacking in the analysis is how racial dynamics affects this current and future segregation/gentrification of our neighborhoods and cities.

However, what we do know from the recent study by Alexander and colleagues out of Johns Hopkins University (The Long Shadow: Family Background, Disadvantaged Urban Youth, and the Transition to Adulthood) is that while those born into poverty are likely to remain in generational poverty in adulthood, African Americans born into poverty are much more likely to remain in poverty than their white counterparts born into poverty. (3) This data confirms anecdotal reports through almost 30 years of tracking of 800 children born in neighborhoods of low-income in Baltimore and represents a pattern across similar cities in America. Such patterns include a 30% employment gap between white and black men in the little remaining blue-collar jobs in Baltimore; 49% employment gap between whites and blacks who had dropped out of school; 100% income gap between low-income whites and blacks even while low-income white men had the lowest rate of college attendance or completion compared to low-income black men in the study. Findings from the study also confirm that low-income black neighborhoods were more likely than low-income white neighborhoods to be negatively impacted by urban renewal practices, resulting in displacement and severed social networks.

Many of us like the neighborhood feeling of Baltimore. But our neighborhoods are segregated and difficult to ignore, if we are a little awake. The Baltimore Neighborhood Indicator Alliance 2012 data confirms that our city is segregated:

Neighborhood                                Families living in poverty (%)                 Income (K)
Greenmount                                              38                                                        21

Perkins/Middle East                                 27                                                         19

Roland Park                                               0                                                         90

Mt. Washington                                        0.8                                                        72

Canton                                                       2                                                         77

Southeast                                                20                                                          29

Yes, we have some historic and present day challenges. We know this from talking to folks  who hold the history and we know this from research, in and outside of the city. How are we going to build a new Baltimore that is less segregated and not continuing a well-documented and current history?

The Mayor recently declared that its ‘institutional partners’ of universities will change Baltimore for the better through bringing new residents to Baltimore. We are wondering  who it’s being changed for? (4) According to these studies, without clear intention to assure affordable housing, access to quality education and the resources to support a child ready to learn, and employment opportunities for low-skilled and non-college educated residents of all races, Baltimore will continue the current path of gentrification and racial inequity. One look around the gentrifying areas of Harbor East and Middle East Baltimore provides us a vision of the future of a rebuilt Baltimore: $10 latte in Harbor East and $200K luxury condominiums in Middle East tells us who we are marketing the city to.
The recent negotiations between low-wage workers at the Johns Hopkins Hospital which resulted in some workers still unable to afford health insurance and homes in neighborhoods supporting well-being, hints at a continued path of income and geographic inequity via a leading employer and institutional partner who refuses to set an example to all new businesses that Baltimore is a city that demands the right to a living wage.(5) (According to research out of MIT, a livable wage in Baltimore Maryland for one adult with one child is $22.88, with two adults and one child, $20.51; the hospital agreed to a top $15 for employees of 20 years (6)) The privatization of public housing in Baltimore with no assurance that they remain affordable in perpetuity and new development with limited time-periods for affordable housing prices places current low-wage earners at risk of future displacement. (7)

The plan to rebuild Baltimore by increasing the population- by attracting a different race and class which separates out based on education, income, and race- without a plan to prevent gentrification and further segregation commits the city toward a continued gap between the haves and have nots.

With no real government oversight to assure affordable housing and access to quality education is permanent, local hire and livable wages as mandatory rules of engagement with current and future development, it is hard to imagine how low-skilled and non-college educated residents will be able to afford the new Baltimore. We have not assessed the current rental needs of existing residents to assure that sufficient affordable housing is available. WIthout knowing the needs it is difficult to plan to assure that sufficient affordable housing is built. Targeted development dollars and tax subsidies which assure sufficient affordable housing, local business opportunity which matches the market needs of low-income residents,  access to quality education and training to assure competition in the changing workforce, adequate social and health programs which prepares the workforce,  and living-wage employment that assures self-sustainability must be part of a plan to rebuild a different Baltimore. Until town hall meetings, city legislation, the media outlets, neighborhood groups, education and health groups, private and government policy and funding address these vital anchors of equitable community rebuilding to assure all its residents can stay and participate in a changing Baltimore, we are simply orchestrating the disposal of the most vulnerable to attract the more powerful. Basically, we are not doing anything different.

There is wisdom in learning from history and yet our elected leaders and resourced elites, blinded by the camouflage of bright lights, new buildings, and greed, seem to have missed this opportunity for change. Is it too early to predict that another generation is being ushered into poverty even while the intellectuals continue to churn out data, theorizing the exact percentages that may escape, and why? We have the data, we have people telling their stories; we simply need the political will and the compassionate understanding that until we all have an opportunity to participate for change, nothing fundamentally changes for those absent from the negotiations. And yes, we have the resources!

1. Educational and geographic segregation
2. Segregated neighborhoods and health inequities
3.The Long Shadow
3b. The Root: White privilege extends to the poor
4. Institutional partnership to rebuild Baltimore
4b. Institutional partner rebuilds for the privileged
5. The Real News Network: Unfinished negotiations between Hospital workers and Hopkins Hospital
5b. In These Times: Hospital union claims victory in Johns Hopkins Contract Fight
6. Living Wage in Baltimore, Maryland; MIT
7. Privatizing public housing in Baltimore: RAD speak-out

The rhetoric of power

After another story glossing over the “truth” of equitable access to the new Hopkins-Henderson Community school in East Baltimore, Father Peter Lyons (St. Wenceslaus Church, East Baltimore) and myself wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Times. We decided after two weeks that maybe-just saying- they won’t publish it?

Here’s what we had to say:

In regard “Reading, Writing and Renewal (the Urban Kind)” of March 18 2014. “…We wanted Henderson-Hopkins to be an inspiration and magnet for the neighborhood.” A quote from East Baltimore Development Inc’s CEO. Like a similar urban experiment in West Philadelphia, the results are already in. “Marketing Schools, Marketing Cities” by Maia B Cucchiara (2013) describes the outcomes: “In their zeal to attract more middle-class families to the city, policy makers and educators adopted a stance where (white) middle-class families were seen as more valuable and more worthy than the existing working-class families.” If more evidence is needed to tell us where Baltimore’s experiment in social engineering is heading, an application policy and process for school attendance gives relocated residents three days to apply and no notice to historic residents while ample notice to Hopkins staff and students continues, assuring gentrification. The admission policy favors applicants from outside the redevelopment zone who are employed by Johns Hopkins and new developments, over historic residents of the neighborhood. Community organizations must alert residents of upcoming application deadlines and request meetings with the school’s leadership, knowing that existing neighbors are not the target of the magnets rebuilding this East Baltimore neighborhood.

New York Times article, March 18, 2014

Reading, writing, and renewal (the urban kind)

David and Goliath again: low-wage workers and Johns Hopkins Hospital

The current negotiations for a livable wage between low-wage workers at the Johns Hopkins Hospital and the leadership reminds us of the historical David and Goliath story, again. Putting aside the biblical source and broadening the analogy to a secular world, those without power against those with power is the same ole story here.

Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in the backdrop of a typical block in its neighborhood of Middle East Baltimore

Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in the backdrop of a typical block in its neighborhood of Middle East Baltimore

Why are we here again? Three years ago I gave a talk at the Fair Development Conference in Baltimore sponsored by United Workers titled “Saving Middle East Baltimore from the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions: David and Goliath”. (1) It was a history of land banking and “negro removal” tactics engineered by the Hopkins Institutions over the last 70 years. The impact of such exploitation on the health of the people and place of Middle East Baltimore was discussed. The question asked of the audience was how can we begin to measure the outcomes of the glaring gap between the growth of this powerful institution and the surrounding community, one of the most fragile, poor, and disinvested neighborhoods in Baltimore, with health indicators described by Johns Hopkins as one of the worst in the nation.

Fast forward to 2014 and today the prestigious institution continues its role of Goliath by exploiting those least vulnerable to assure its continued growth in wealth and health. This time the exploited “David” are none other than their own employees who do not earn a living wage. (2,3) If it was not so ironic it would be a wonderful “dark” comedy, particularly since many of the workers in low wage service jobs at the institution are African Americans. But this is not a comedy, a farce, or anything for anyone to laugh about; it is deadly. It is a story which continues to reveal the reason the gap between the rich and the poor and the effects on their health continue to widen: those with access to resources have better health and live longer lives while those with less resources have more illnesses and die at an earlier age. (4,5,6) Low wage workers seeking fair compensation for their labor cannot afford health insurance while working at the number one ranked health care institution in the world. The stress of not having enough money to make ends meet is consistent and chronic and sets up the body and mind to be vulnerable to acute and chronic illnesses such as infections, allergies, high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, mental illness, cancers, addiction. (7,8)

Meanwhile the salary of the CEO of Johns Hopkins Hospital and the president of Johns Hopkins University-each earning more than $1 million / year -certainly assures them access to all the resources that would minimize the stressors of affording food, shelter, clothing, and health care. (2,9) This premier health care institution persuades a vulnerable and gullible public that they are there to save lives and make Baltimore a healthy place to live; but for whom? The president of Johns Hopkins University has spoken eloquently of the new Henderson-Hopkins School it is running in East Baltimore as being a model of , “restoring the city’s east side as a safe, prosperous, and vibrant community”. (3) A vibrant and healthy community begins with the members of the community having employment which allows them to afford their homes, health insurance, healthy food, and time to spend with their children and participate in school activities. Poverty-level wages do not allow a vibrant and healthy community to exist or grow. In fact poverty is the leading cause of poor health according to the World Health Organization, among others. (10) Through these unfair labor practices the institution contributes to health disparity/inequity and is itself a social determinant of poor health. In light of its institutes and programs receiving thousands of dollars to eliminate health disparities/inequities, address the social determinants of health, and rebuild healthy urban neighborhoods, there is grave contradiction in what it says it is doing locally, nationally, and internationally and what it is doing at home within its walls and its neighborhood. (11)

The tools that allow this exploitation of the right to a living wage and access to good health are racism and classism and the power that white-run institutions accumulated from the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, unfair laws, policies, and practices that grew the wealth of the few. The government institutions which rubber-stamped these policies and practices then, continue today as powerful public:private partnerships of neoliberalism. Transparency and accountability to the public remains low and corruption remains high. Large public subsidies, tax-exempt status, grants, and below-market value purchases of land from the government subsidize this private for-profit institution with public dollars and assure continued growth in power of this “Goliath”.

Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in the backdrop of land cleared for new housing- will their low-wage workers be able to afford to live here?

Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in the backdrop of land cleared for new housing- will
their low-wage workers be able to afford to live here?

But today is a new day and after we confirm the data, what do we do? How can we support the current low-wage workers and their advocates-1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East- negotiating for a living wage that affords them health care and safe and sanitary living conditions? We can contact them through their website below, write letters to the editors of all periodicals in the city and beyond, call and write our public officials who vote on permits, grants, and tax-exemptions to the institution at all government levels, and write letters to the publications of the institution. (3) Students and faculty at the university are particularly helpful in writing and talking about this injustice to their colleagues. They can spread the word to their friends and colleagues at other institutions and learn more about wages at other prestigious hospitals and universities around the country. The institution has declared that if there is a strike it will have an alternative workforce ready to continue to provide services-their identified goals of health care delivery justifies their path of pay-inequity, “the-ends-justifies-the-means’ reality. If workers strike because they have no alternative, we can join in on the strike and show solidarity for our brothers and sisters willing to stand up to power: united we can send a powerful message that it is time for all employees to earn a wage which does not place them at risk of living in poverty and becoming sick. We need all the “Davids” to challenge this “Goliath” of Johns Hopkins and send a powerful message that we are tired of inequitable and non-sustainable wages that do not allow low-wage Baltimore workers to afford living in the very communities the institution is rebuilding.

Solidarity

Solidarity

This thinking and practice are revolutionary acts because it goes against the norm of accepting a powerful institution’s oppression of its employees fueled by its unhindered network of connections with government and corporate America. Today it may be service employees but we do not have to wait until tomorrow to see that this inequity in compensation for labor is widespread and is already affecting higher-waged employees at other hospitals and universities across the US. (12,13) Fair compensation helps to assure equitable and sustainable development in our city, and begins to narrow the income and health gap; anything else is a violation of the human rights and the health of individuals and communities and continues the legacy of race and class inequity. (14)

Source/coverage of Johns Hopkins Hospital employees protest for livable wage.
1199SEIU United Health Care Workers East website
The Real News Network
Baltimore Brew
Baltimore Sun

Speak out about what fair and ethical development means to you!

United Workers and Eastside groups organizing, marching and rallying this coming Saturday, March 29, 10:30 AM:

Raising awareness to the history of abandonment and inviting you to contribute to the solution!!

600 N. Patterson, Tench Tilghman

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