Green Party

Southeast Stakeholders Coalition

The Southeast Stakeholders Coalition believes that the chances for citizens of Southeast Baltimore to have an impact on the future of our neighborhoods significantly increases when we are able to share information, improve communication among ourselves, and speak with a common voice. Our power is increased when we are able to work in coalition with organizations within our own area and with organizations from Mideast when our interests coincide. The Southeast Stakeholders Coalition believes that we are facing major issues with significant implications for all residents of Southeast and hopes to provide a space for discussions and developing strategies to aid in efforts to address those issues in ways that benefit all residents.

At the first meeting of the Southeast Stakeholders Coalition, the strongest concern voiced by participants was lack of information regarding issues affecting neighborhoods in Southeast. Often, people did not know about important issues except from coverage in the media, which folks felt was often inaccurate and one-sided. From the start, one of the main objectives of the coalition has been to provide information on issues that impact all or much of Southeast. This will allow residents to know the issues and help to determine action regarding these issues. At our second meeting, held on May 30, we had several reports on issues that affect Southeast and Middle East Baltimore. One dealt with the Biotech Park issue and was presented by Pat Tracy, a Middle East Community resident whose house is scheduled for demolition. Pat is currently the President of the Save Middle East Action Committee(SMEAC). Another issue that was discussed and has not received the overall attention it deserves involves Brownfields. Glenn Ross, the President of McElderry Park Community Association, SECO Board member, and one of the organizers of the Southeast Stakeholders Coalition, provided information and perspective on this issue.

As we stated in our first meeting on April 30th, those of us who are trying to organize the SE Stakeholders Coalition do not believe that this coalition speaks for the Southeast community. We believe that if enough people and organizations, associations, church and school representatives, regularly come together to discuss issues, share information, communicate, and then make collective judgments on particular issues of concern to Southeast- then the Coalition can reflect the voice of a substantial number of Southeast residents. We believe that if we act collectively we are all in a stronger position to ensure that promises made to us are promises that are kept.

Pat began by talking about the history of the biotech park. She indicated that residents met for several years at the Middle East Community Organization (MECO) talking to representatives from the City and Johns Hopkins Hospital. They were shown drawings of what the biotech park might look like. But they were under the impression that the great majority of the residents who lived in the so-called “footprint” where the biotech would be placed would remain in their homes- the biotech would rebuild neighborhoods in Middle East and preserve the homes of families who had lived there, many for decades. The residents living in the footprint did not learn that their homes were scheduled for demolition and they were to be relocated until they read about it in the Baltimore Sun when the plan for the biotech park was first announced publicly. (We know that this is a pattern that has often been repeated when the City and powerful institutions are dealing with the public.)

SMEAC was formed following the announcement. Many residents who had lived in the “footprint” area for decades, and who had homes that they had successfully maintained and improved over the years, did not want to leave. The area was their home. On one block one woman took care of the needs of a cluster of elderly families who could not get around well. What would happen to them when they were moved out to different locations? Relocation may mean having to buy a car and maintain it or pay daily transportation costs from wherever they were to be relocated; they could not afford that kind of expense. In addition, the relocation was announced before any plans had been made, at least plans that included residents. People were concerned about how families would be compensated, who would provide them with housing counseling that they could trust, where they would be moved, would they have any say in that, would they wind up in debt or greater debt following the move?

For residents in Middle East, particularly those who expected to be relocated, decisions were being made about them and for them, without any serious consideration being given to their emotional and practical needs as working people, elderly retired people or young people with families. As Pat put it, “there didn’t seem to be a human face on any of this… when people are moved everything changes for them… they need guarantees that they will not become homeless or poor.” Many of the families to be relocated were on fixed incomes or held low wage jobs. What happens to them if they are moved into a more expensive environment and have to maintain more expensive homes? Many of the people making decisions about the families to be relocated are decent people, but the needs of those families were not understood and didn’t seem to be a priority. The people doing the developing and relocation hadn’t thought these things through.

Many residents in Middle East feel that many folks in Southeast as well as many people in city government and institutions such as Johns Hopkins Hospital have looked at their neighborhoods and thought, “Look what your neighborhood looks like… it will be a good thing to tear it down.” Pat’s response is, “Most of us didn’t do that.” We didn’t do scatter-site demolition of houses so that on many blocks you have a few houses standing and vacant lots all over. The demolition reduced property values, causing people to move out, exposed toxic materials (lead and other toxins), made room for the drug trade and enabled landlords to let their properties deteriorate while still renting them. She talked about the community ties that existed and have been devastated along with the destruction caused by development policies.

Once it was recognized that the biotech park was going to happen, SMEAC focused on trying to ensure that the homeowners and renters who will be relocated will be “made whole”. It has been a difficult and often frustrating process. Families that will be relocated still do not have housing counselors who will ensure that they understand all of the financial issues involved and that will advocate for them rather than the developers. Families do no not yet know where they may be relocated and do not feel as yet that they have any real power regarding those decisions. Families to be relocated have been told that some of them will have the opportunity to buy a new home in the area peripheral to the biotech area. It is supposed to be mixed-cost housing, but no housing is being built yet. What’s the timetable for building new homes and demolishing present homes? If your home is demolished before you have a new home to move to, will your rent be deducted from the financial package people are supposed to receive? (The strategic plan for such a massive project that will have such immense impacts on people’s lives was not developed according to an appropriate time table because previous planning was not done. It’s the residents and the community that will suffer.)

Despite all the problems that have been created by the poor planning for the relocation of families the fact that residents organized SMEAC and that SMEAC has stayed “in the game” has made a difference. Without SMEAC”s pressure and questions, it is unlikely that Annie E. Casey and Hopkins would have contributed $5 million each to the package that will go to relocated homeowners and renters and that the East Baltimore Development Initiative, which is coordinating the project, would be slowing down the process in order to address the concerns of the families to be relocated. A group called Living Cities, which includes large funders for the biotech park, said that they will not make any investment until it is clear that there are homes for people to move to and residents have information about available housing stock. (The issue of available housing stock is very important. With over 250 families scheduled to move in so-called Phase I, and other families to follow and the recent closing of Chapel Homes, there are not enough viable homes to accommodate everyone.)

Finally, families that are moving want assurances that they are not moving to areas which will be redeveloped two years from now and they will have to move again. They want zoning laws assuring the areas will be stable for 20 years or more.

{Pat Tracy’s report is a combination of remarks that she made at the second Southeast Stakeholders Coalition meeting and an interview with Stan Markowitz and John Lundquist.}

Glenn began by explaining that Brownfields are abandoned or under-utilized industrial sites in urban areas that are contaminated with toxic chemicals. (According to Maryland State officials, about 450 contaminated sites exist in Maryland. MaryPIRG, a nonprofit environmental health organization, notes that business and government see Brownfields sites as potential sources for urban redevelopment, but they emphasize that Maryland law states that redevelopment must thoroughly clean up contamination, protect the surrounding community, and ensure that new environmental problems do not result from the development.) That has not always been the case.

Glenn’s knowledge of the Brownfields issue dates back twelve years when he was invited, along with other Southeast community leaders, to a meeting concerning environmental health issues. The participants learned that Brownfields funding (which is Superfund money) would be available to communities addressing environmental health issues. As a result one participant, the Rose Street Center, developed a sanitation project in order to build a “track record” to apply for future Brownfields funding. Rose Street Center was joined by McElderry Park and Banner Neighborhoods and still later by Patterson Park Community Development Corporation.

At the same time Glenn began to work with Johns Hopkins Hospital on health issues. Glenn’s work with various departments ultimately resulted in a partnership between McElderry Park Community Association and Hopkins Hospital. An environmental health proposal from Hopkins and McElderry Park to the federal government has passed the latest cut and Dean Jim Zabora, from Hopkins, is very confident that it will be funded. A major reason for that likelihood is the presence of a community organization, McElderry Park, in the plan. If this grant is approved, it will enable McElderry Park to clean up hazardous waste areas and provide funding to train community residents in environmental testing, clean-up, and training for which these individuals would be certified, licensed, and bonded. They would have a set of marketable skills that will provide continuous income. The work that is accomplished under this grant can serve as a model for other Southeast and Middle East communities who can utilize the expertise that will be developed.

During the past few months, Glenn has updated his knowledge and increased his concerns about Brownfields issues and funding by taking an eight week course in environmental health issue offered by Civic Works. He said the information he got in the class made clear that toxic materials from abandoned industries in Southeast are still in the ground. Brownfield sites surround the harbor from Dundalk to the present Inner Harbor and toxic materials have leeched from those areas into the water and have been deposited in other parts of the harbor area.

An important feature of the Brownfields issue is that money is available and it is available for more than industrial sites that are being transformed into shops and condominiums. Glenn indicated that money which is available for Brownfields clean-up and development can be used to clean up neighborhoods and develop park-like areas within communities. Communities as far as five miles away from Brownfields sites can apply for Brownfields funding to address their environmental health needs.

Some residents in Southeast know about Brownfields but a lot of us don’t and we have not been aware that funding is available to address urban environmental health issues. Southeast residents need to get more information about what qualifies as a Brownfields site, where those sites are, and how much money is out there for cleaning up sites and for training Southeast residents. We also need to know about legislation and how we can support legislation that will better protect and inform us.

Sister Bobbie English and the Southeast Education Task Force (SEETF)

Sister Bobbie attended the second Stakeholders Coalition meeting not intending to talk about the task force but was asked if she could give the attendees an update on the background of the task force. She graciously agreed to do so. (The Stakeholders Coalition wants to note that the SEETF is an example of people from different parts of Southeast crossing racial, neighborhood, and class lines to work together on an issue that affects all of Southeast.) Sister Bobbie explained that the Southeast Education Task Force came into being in 1995. It was a response to a recommendation made in the Southeast Community Plan of 1993 that the community find ways to support local schools so that they could be schools of choice, complementing the community efforts made in other areas to make our neighborhoods neighborhoods of choice. The Task Force has operated over the years mainly as a volunteer coalition, with individuals and non-profits doing partnership projects with schools, and with the whole Task Force advocating for school improvements.

In 1997, the Task Force rallied around capital improvements. The Task Force took on the capital improvements projects mainly because everyone at that time was looking at academic achievement but there was no attention being paid to the critical problems around learning environments. For example, there were many schools with health problems such as moldy carpets and erratic heating and ventilation systems, or with safety problems like insufficient exterior lighting making night raids on schools an easy process. Another major problem was overcrowding in four public schools: William Paca, Tench Tilghman, Highlandtown #215, and Highlandtown #237.

After much advocacy by the school and the community, Highlandtown #237 will be expanded and renovated soon. In addition, overcrowding at the other three schools will be addressed in the planning process for a new Pre K-8 school somewhere in the Southeast area east of Patterson Park Avenue. The Baltimore City Public School System is in full support of this new school. We will be looking at the best location for it on June 21. On this date, Al Barry, a planning consultant with the Baltimore City Public School System, will coordinate a charette, which is a design meeting. This will be an opportunity for key community representatives to sit with architects and imagine the best site and design for the new Pre K-8 school.