Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Public Housing Privatization:Can the City Afford Not To?

If you've been reading the papers as of late, you know all too well that the City is trying to unload 40% of its Public Housing to private Management Companies. This has caused widespread controversies with some in favor of privatization and some who are against it. Both sides make valid points and this is a sensitive issue for all parties concerned. I'm going to say right now that I'm for it for the mere fact that maintenance cost are far beyond the City's budgeted money to do so.
Speaking of money lets talk budget shall we? According to the Baltimore Sun, the City has budgeted $4 Million in Federal Grants for this year for Capital improvements for all of its public housing complexes. In the article it states the cost renovating and modernizing one property (J. Van Story Branch in Station North) will cost $25 Million. This is just one building! The total cost for needed improvements citywide for its public housing stock is staggering $300 Million. The City, State, and Feds are all too broke to give $300 Million to the Baltimore Housing Authority to make these improvements.
For J, Van Story Branch, the City is spending $5 Million for renovations. The other $20 Million is slated to be spent by its new private owners. Now answer me this; Will the City be able to come up with that extra $20 Million to give J. Van Story Branch the needed renovations if it weren't sold? Unfortunately not. Like I said before, all public agencies are too cash strapped.
J. Van Story Branch is far from the only public housing property that needs renovations in the ball park of $25 Million if not more. These properties include McCulloh Homes, Poe Homes, Gilmor Homes, Bel Park Towers, Govans Manor, LaTrobe Homes, The Allendale, Westport Homes, Brooklyn Homes, Douglass Homes, and Monument East. Like I said the City can't afford to invest the $300 Million to renovate all of these properties. 
On the other side of the argument, there are those who think that this will deplete the availability of affordable housing to a City whose waiting list is very long. This is a very valid argument but I can give you examples that should put your mind at ease. First of all the City has been going after private landlords who poorly manage Section 8 housing in the City. They're in the process of revoking the license of the slumlords who manage Madison Park North Apartments (Murder Mall) between Bolton Hill and Reservoir Hill. Also in Park Heights the City has torn down Pall Mall Apartments (the Ranch) due to it becoming nothing more than a drug den. Case in point, the City will not allow the public housing properties it sold to be mismanaged and neglected. 

For other examples of privately owned Section 8 housing that is working for its Residents, I take you to my home town of Columbia. Properties such as Community Homes, Forest Ridge, Sierra Woods, and Harper House have each recently received millions of dollars in renovations and have remained solely for Residents with Section 8 Vouchers, Hopefully these examples will ease the minds of people who think that when these City properties are sold, they will either be made market rate and/or will be redeveloped with high cost housing leaving Residents with even fewer options. 
As I stated two paragraphs up, the City's waiting list for public housing/Section 8 Vouchers is very long. There are people who fear that it will only grow longer if the City sells off public housing to private companies. That being said, let me pose this question; What would happen to the list if the City does NOT sell to private companies? In that instance the list will grow even longer because of deferred maintenance, more and more units will be deemed uninhabitable. That's right a larger percentage of vacant public housing due to the deteriorating state of the units. If private companies come in and invest the $300 Million required Citywide, then the number of people on waiting lists will shrink because units that were once deemed uninhabitable will then be deemed habitable. 
Although I'm in favor of the City privatizing public housing, I do share some of the concerns mentioned by Residents and City Officials. I think it to be the lesser of two evils and the City had better regulate the sold off properties very closely so that Residents are given what they need which is a home that's clean, rodent free, and up to code in a Neighborhood that's clean and safe as well. I think that's a goal that all parties can agree on regardless of their stance on privatization.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Old Town Mall:My Take.....Again

So the City is now trying to revive the long ailing Old Town Mall. This has been something I've been trying since I started this blog oh so many years ago. As a result, I've published numerous articles not just about Old Town Mall itself, but the Neighborhoods and streets surrounding it in an effort to streamline redevelopment and re-open and consolidate roadways between Northeast Baltimore and Downtown. So why am I rehashing my old ideas? Because as time passes, older ideas still need to be discussed.
Old Town Mall today is and always has been a patchwork of Neighborhoods that don't really work as a unified Community. I believe this to be why previous attempts at reviving the area have not been successful. Only when the entire Community is looked at as one and it is known that different facets of the Community feed off one another will we see change for the better. This most recent article in the Baltimore Sun finally shows the City gets the hint by attempting revitalization by addressing not just Old Town Mall but the vacant land that once housed Somerset Homes and Forest St. Apartments which sits between the two.
My plan not only addresses the properties mentioned above but also addresses Pleasant View Gardens, Sojourner Douglass College, Thomas G. Hayes Elementary School, and Dunbar Middle. The ultimate goal of this Master Plan and any other Master Plan I've created for this area is to provide safe high quality mixed use development that compliments each other and fills in gaps between Johns Hopkins Hospital and Downtown. I've omitted some longer range goals such as the Edison Properties and LaTrobe Homes because I believe that in order for them to come to fruition, the JFX must first be demolished.
First we have the all but abandoned strip of Retail that is Old Town Mall. For whatever reason I have a soft spot for this beleaguered bunch of Historic Buildings. The key to revamping Old Town Mall lies in Gay St. In order fot this area to thrive Gay St. must be re-opened to vehicular traffic similar to what Lexington St. at Lexington Mall. This is all part of a master plan to re-open Gay St. in its entirety from Orleans St. to Broadway. Gay St,. due to its narrow length will have to north-bound one way. Right now Gay St. traffic is required to divert to Esnor St. bypassing Old Town Mall. Esnor St. would be closed when Gay St. is re-opened.  
The Baltimore Sun Article says that a revamped Old Town Mall will have Neighborhood conveniences such as a Pharmacy, small Restaurants, Dry Cleaner, Banks etc. It appears that the search for a Grocery Store has ended and the City has given up on that prospect. I have gone back and forth on whether or not I think a large Grocery Store is good for the area. My position right now (it's subject to change) that a large Grocer is needed. The area is after all in a Food Desert and given the future plans for development near Hopkins, the Edison Properties, and Somerset Homes, a critical mass of people will bring growth to the area. The site I would like to secure for a Grocery Store has Orleans St. frontage and is situated between Gay. St and Forrest St. I'm thinking a mixed use building over top of the store not unlike the Whole Foods at Inner Harbor East. 
Just east of my proposed Grocery Store lies the low density garden Apartment Complex known simply as Forrest St. Apartments. These Apartments do not go along with the overall vision of a mixed use mixed income Neighborhood of a relatively high density. When redeveloping these Apartments it must coincide with any development at the demolished Somerset Homes (pictured above pre-demolition). 
My vision is similar to that of Broadway Overlook (pictured above) which contains a Row House Style Apartment Building which the Forrest St./Somerset Homes site will contain and Town Homes. Broadway Overlook has a higher percentage of Town Homes than what I have planned for the Forrest St./Somerset Homes Site. It will be primarily home ownership with a good number below market rate as well as rentals some of which will also be below market rate for a true mixed income Community.
Speaking of mixed income Communities, our next piece of the puzzle is Pleasant View Gardens. Pleasant View Gardens is the reincarnation of the old LaFayette Courts public housing high rise. In stark contrast, Pleasant View Gardens is a decidedly low density Community with public housing Town Homes arranged in a circle appropriately named "New Hope Circle." Across Aisquith St. are a few Town Homes that are market rate home ownership and a Community Center. One block over on Central Avenue is a low income Senior Building. Pleasant View Gardens was Baltimore's first HOPE VI Community. The City learned some lessons when developing future HOPE VI Communities, most importantly that the income mix wasn't broad enough. Newer Communities such as Heritage Crossing, Albemarle Square, Broadway Overlook feature desired mix. 
With that in mind I'm proposing broadening the income mix at Pleasant View Gardens. The north eastern sector of New Hope Circle will feature below market rate home ownership options. This will be available for both existing and new Residents. Existing and new Residents can improve their existing or recently acquired homes in lieu of a down payment and whatever they're paying in rent will now be paid as a mortgage. The northwestern sector of New Hope Circle will become market rate Rentals. The southern sector of New Hope Circle will remain public housing thus creating a true mixed income Community for Pleasant view Gardens.                  
I have also in this Master Plan included two closed Schools and 1 School that may or may not close. The first two closed schools are Thomas G. Hayes Elementary and Dunbar Middle (pictured above). Although they may contain small magnet and/or Charter Schools I believe that they can be transferred to one of many other under enrolled School Buildings given how there are 85,000 Students enrolled in City Schools and the building capacity for all City Schools combined is for close to 120,000 Students. 
With those figures in mind I think you can see how doing away with these two School Buildings isn't that big a deal in the grand scheme of things. In the place of these two School Buildings would be Residential Development similar to what I'm proposing to replace Somerset Homes and Forrest St. Apartments which is a mixture of Apartments, Condos, and Town Homes. However I have up the density a little bit (pictured above) given that they're closer to Hopkins. It will, just like its Neighbors include a broad income mix inlcuding Market Rate Home Ownership and Rentals as well as below Market Rate Home Ownership and Rentals. 
Next we come to Sojourner Douglas College, which is reusing the building of the closed Charles Carroll of Carrollton Elementary Building. Although it pains me to say it, this School may close. Right now it is in danger of losing accreditation and if it does in fact lose its accreditation, the School's days are numbered. The true fate of Sojourner Douglas College won't be known until much later in the year. If Sojourner Douglas does close I would knock down the building and you guessed it! Build mixed income housing in the same variety of styles I have described this entire post. To add icing on the cake I would rehab and reuse the original Eastern High School building at Aisquith St. and Orleans St. as low income Apartments for Seniors.
As I said before, the City is now focusing on reviving Old Town Mall. They're also looking for uses for Forrest St. Apartments and Somerset Homes. Learning of this news I have decided to rehash my old ideas and/or update them for 2014. You can see that I have proposed the addition of a lot of housing. This is to create a critical mass of people so that the Retail uses at the new Old Town Mall can thrive.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Recreating the Bottom

By the middle of the 20th Century it seems that almost every Neighborhood that encroached Downtown was nothing but slums. And when I say Slums I mean chronic over crowding, lack of indoor plumbing, and lack of HVAC. In addition to the buildings being in shambles Residents were destitute. At the time it seemed that the right thing to do would be demolish these slums and build what was then considered modern public housing. It worked for a few years however, the same problems began to resurface soon after.
I've told that story a million times on this blog and I choose not to bore you with it once again. This time I'm going to talk about a forgotten section northwest of Downtown and southeast of Upton. It crosses the blurred line between Upton and Seton Hill. It was known as the "Bottom." In Upton there are many historical Buildings that were home to Baltimore's African American Elite primarily in the Marble Hill District and/or along Pennsylvania Avenue above Dolphin St. The Bottom was the area below Dolphin St. that was over-crowded and housed Baltimore's African American working class and working poor. Given the area's lack of resources, the Bottom fell into disrepair as Neighborhood Boundaries didn't expand despite the great migration.
So what and where is the Bottom today? Today the bottom includes McCulloh Homes, State Center(pictured above), Orchard St. Mews, and Heritage Crossing (pictured above). During the slum clearance of the mid 20th Century, Murphy Homes occupied the land that is now home to Heritage Crossing. More on that later. There are currently plans on the books to redevelop State Center into a high density mixed use TOD haven. If done correctly it will fill the void in between the sought after Neighborhoods of Bolton Hill and Mount Vernon. 
Located just west of State Center is McCulloh Homes(pictured above), a public housing project that is in dire need of reinvestment if not a complete redevelopment. Some of Upton's most prized streets run through McColloh Homes; Pennsylvania Avenue, Druid Hill Avenue, and McCulloh St. East of MLK Boulevard which was not in existence when the Bottom was lies Orchard Street Mews. Orchard Street Mews is located in Seton Hill and is a Garden Apartment Complex whose buildings are in now where near as bad a shape as McCulloh Homes but stick out like a sore thumb when compared to the beautiful housing stock that has been handsomely rehabbed over the years. It should also be noted that Seton Hill is flanked with a plethora of trees, gardens, and parks.
Recently I wrote an article more or less celebrating the move of Social Security from its fortress (pictured above) on the edge of Downtown just south of the Bottom. I talked about the endless possibilities of redevelopment and how that section and surrounding areas can improve by leaps and bounds. One aspect I didn't touch upon was recreating the Bottom. Although the Bottom can be recreated without the redevelopment of the Social Security Fortress, I think doing so will create a synergy of development dollars will hopefully flood the area. 
So where and how do we begin recreating the bottom? First it's time to redevelop McCulloh Homes and Orchard Street Mews. McCulloh Homes is a no brainer given its high vacancy rate and the astronomically high cost it would be to renovate and modernize that whole complex. Originally the State Center redevelopment project included McCulloh Homes but Residents successfully nixed that idea. These days however, conditions at McCulloh Homes have continued to deteriorate and it appears that the City is in no financial position to make the needed improvements. Demolition and selling off the land may be the only way to move forward.
As I said earlier, Orchard Street Mews are not in state of crisis like McCulloh Homes but their decidedly mid century urban renewal era appearance leaves much to the imagination. Given that Orchard Street Mews is the link between Downtown/Seton Hill and Upton/McCulloh Homes in order to create a stream lined "Bottom" they must be redeveloped as well. In the beginning of this post I hearkened back to the worn story of blighted slums being removed in the mid 20th century. One thing I didn't address which I will now is what some of the slums that were NEVER cleared and what they look like now. Today, they're some of Baltimore's most sought after Neighborhoods most notably Otterbein. It was cleared of Residents but never demolished because the path for I-95 was redirected and the $1 row house was born.
Could the Bottom have fared as well as Otterbein? If so could Upton's Marble Hill District have be as in demand as Federal Hill? These are answers we will never know. That being said, lets recreate the Bottom. Now that the land has been cleared it begs the question; What will go in place of McCulloh Homes and Orchard Street Mews? If you're thinking I'm going to put upscale mixed use high density Apartments with cookie Retail, you're wrong. The Bottom was never a high class glitzy area even in its heyday. It housed Baltimore's African American working class and working poor during a time when segregation gave them no other options on where to live.
A redeveloped Bottom will pay homage to that by providing affordable housing of all types to Baltimore's working class and working poor. Gone are the days of segregation so hopefully a culturally diverse Neighborhood will rise. The housing types will mimic the beautiful row homes in Neighboring Seton Hill, Bolton Hill, and Mount Vernon. Some of these new Row Homes will be Apartments and others will be a one Family dwelling. Some will be rentals while others will be sold to first time buyers below market value. Remember, the Bottom was never a wealthy enclave so celebrating its history would be to offer affordable housing. Unlike the original Bottom, the new Bottom will be flanked with all the modern amenities and will not be over crowded. These new Row Homes will be built with similar architectural details found in Seton Hill, Bolton, Hill and Upton's Marble Hill District to make it appear as if they've been here the whole time. The new Bottom will also contain an unprecedented amount of trees, gardens, and parks.
The original Bottom was once home to slums that housed Baltimore's African American working class and working poor. If recreated the "New Bottom" will house Working Families from all ethnic and cultural backgrounds and instead of slums will be tree lined row homes with all the modern amenities. I can't think of a better way to recreate the Bottom.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Elkridge/Jessup Yellow/Orange Shuttle Bug

Yet another post that's relevant on both the Baltimore and Columbia/Howard County Blog!
On the MARC Camden Line there's an under utilized stop at the Howard/Anne Arundel County Line in Jessup (pictured above). Given that MARC is a regional Commuter Line and given all of the gridlock from Northern Virginia all the way to Southern Pennsylvania it is my humble opinion that every MARC Stop should be widely used with parking and shuttle buses to and from Stations to make the commute from home to the MARC Stop as quick and easy as possible. Take one look at the Jessup MARC Stop and you will see that we've got our work cut out for us.
I've resigned myself to the fact that the Jessup MARC Station will be never Metro Centre at Owings Mills, the end of Baltimore's Metro Subway that when completed will sport high capacity parking garages, a Community College Branch, a Library Branch, 495 Apartments with ground floor Retail, and Office Space. This will be TOD at its finest. Immediately surrounding the Jessup MARC Station is a mish-mash of Industrial uses (pictured above). I'm not proposing getting rid of said uses but I do think the Station can still attract a much higher ridership.
15 years ago the thought of Jessup being a high volume Station would have elicited major laughter from any County or State Planner and for good reason. Back then Elkridge and Jessup (the communities serving the Station) were not dense at all and Route 1, located about a quarter mile west of the Station appeared to be built out. That was 15 years ago. Today we have found that there is in fact a lot of land available along Route 1 through a combination of trailer park redevelopment (pictured above), demolishing dated industrial parks, and rezoning of uses along Route 1.
What does the spell for the Jessup MARC Station? It should spell more ridership. There is no shortage of high density mixed use developments either being built or slated to be built along Route along the blurry line that is the border of Elkridge and Jessup. First off there's the Overlook at Blue Stream(pictured above); 1500 Residences, Howard Square; 1,000 Residences Morris Place; 138 Town Homes as well as recently completed developments such as Port Capital Village, The Oaks at Waters Edge, New Colony Village, and Village Towns. This adds up to thousands of new Homes and the traffic these homes come with. Further south along Route 1 there's Mission Place yet another high density mixed use development with a couple hundred new homes. 
Existing Elkridge Residents have had and still have harsh scathing words for County Planners who have approved these new developments (pictured above) citing over crowded roads, Schools, and the need for more Fire Stations. I'm not here to take sides with anyone on this issue. What I am here to do is advocate for better connect-ability between this explosion of population growth and the under utilized Jessup MARC Station. This will minimize traffic impact along Route 1 and the increased ridership on the MARC line may pressure State and County Officials to invest more in Rail Transit. 
So ho do we get Commuters to the lonely MARC Station? That's where Shuttle bugs come into play. In the City, shuttle bugs play a great role in mobilizing Residents to get to and from Rail Stations if the walk there is difficult. Examples are the Maryland Zoo/Mondawmin Shuttle Bug and the Hampden Woodberry Shuttle bug. This type of shuttle bug that will have stops along Route 1 where this high density development is will be great to get riders to and from the Jessup Station. One advantage to high density development like that found on Route 1 in Jessup/Elkridge is the fact that huge a mass of people can live within steps of a shuttle bug stop making the incentive to take the MARC to work that much greater.
So why call it the Yellow/Orange Shuttle bug? The name pays homage to the 2002 Baltimore Regional Rail Plan's vision. In the plan, Baltimore's MARC Lines were to be localized with the Camden Line being dubbed the Orange Line and the Penn Line being dubbed the Purple Line. These lines will share tracks with the more regional MARC Lines as well as stops. The new "localized stops" will not be for MARC trains, only for the Orange and Purple Lines. If you recall on my previous post in my quest to get Rail Transit to Columbia, I proposed running the Yellow Line along the tracks that serve the Jessup MARC Station. Given that the Yellow and Orange Lines would run along those tracks, I propose that the shuttle bug be named; The Yellow and Orange Shuttle Bug.
Then there's parking. Not everyone would want to take the Shuttle Bug and would prefer to take their own cars. This is where expanded parking comes into play. On the site of the current meager parking lots, a parking garage (like that pictured above) would rise to serve the needs of the growing population and invite them to take the MARC. 
The new developments along Route 1 I have mentioned in this post are not the only ones being built or in the pipeline along Route 1. These developments are actually located at a MARC Station ie Oxfors Square and Belmont Station (pictured above) located at the Dorsey MARC Station, Annapolis Junction Town Centre located at the Savage MARC Station and Laurel Park Station located at the Laurel Race Track MARC Station.
The large amount of high density development in Jeesup/Elkridge is comparable to true TOD except for the mere fact it's not actually steps away from a Transit Station the Yellow/Orange Shuttle is an attempt to remedy this by providing the convenience of TOD and ease traffic along Route 1 while doing so.