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A Plan To Transform Blighted Housing Into A Mixed Income Community

AP PHOTO/Steve Ruark

Near the affluent Harbor East neighborhood is Perkins Homes, a public housing project built in the 1940s that has been suffering blight for years. 

But through the PSO Transformation Plan, the Housing Authority of Baltimore City (HABC) and Baltimore City are transforming Perkins Homes into a new mixed-income housing complex. 

They’re planning 2,172 new residential units in Perkins, Somerset and Oldtown. They’re also planning new stores, parks and a school over the course of about 10 years. The development will cost about $1 billion. 

Janet Abrahams, the Executive Director of HABC, said that the PSO Plan will foster health, educational and economic mobility in these communities. She said they decided to rebuild the Perkins site after consulting residents. 

“Collaboratively we all decided that this was a good option for this particular neighborhood,” she said. 

Of the new residential units, a little more than half will be either public housing or ‘affordable’ units. Abrahams said 652 of them will be public housing units, in place of the 629 units currently at Perkins Homes. 

Abrahams said current Perkins residents have the option of living in the new public housing units and that HABC will pay for their relocation costs. 

“We are replacing all the units and some. I think people need to hear that,” she said. 

The PSO Plan has drawn criticism for shifting public housing and low-income Black residents away from the harbor, where Perkins is located. Of the 652 new public housing units, 377 will be at the original Perkins site. The remaining 275 will be at Somerset, away from the harbor and near the city jail. 

But Abrahams said that the businesses that make the harbor a convenient location will become accessible in Somerset. 

“What we're trying to do is expand those resources so that all residents can enjoy it,” Abrahams said. “I don't believe that moving to Somerset is a bad thing.”

Residents like Charese Hackett have had to relocate so that Perkins Homes could be demolished. Hackett said that some residents are concerned about being able to relocate safely, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“People are just worried about displacement and the timing,” Hackett said. 

Many of the residents are elderly and have lived there for many years. Others have disabilities or chronic illnesses. 

But Hackett said she and residents have also had the opportunity to make their voices heard. Since moving to Perkins in 2016, she’s attended resident meetings every one to two months. 

She’s also had support through Urban Strategies, whose case managers provide her and other residents with mobility counseling and has enjoyed new benefits. 

“I fixed my credit pretty much 100%, and I'm in the process of looking for a home to purchase,” Hackett said. 

Ernestine Chambers, the Senior Project Manager of Urban Strategies, said they assess the needs of residents and support them whether or not they choose to return. 

“We assist individuals with attorneys. We assist them with food and resources. We also help them get jobs, promotions, raises, homeownership, bill credit,” she said. 

Chambers said that theyaim to prevent gentrification and advocate for the residents in their new communities.

“We're there to help bridge resources and community partners to fulfill that so that they can be stable and eventually thriving, and if they're already stable, so that they can thrive,” she said. 

Former Perkins resident Reebie Wilson said Urban Strategies helped her stay informed throughout the development process. 

“I'm always updated if something is going on. My caseworker notified me,” Wilson said. 

Wilson has since relocated. She has the option of returning to the new site but is still undecided. 

“I like where I’m at but I’m also excited about the new development,” she said. “I think they’re doing an amazing job.” 

Abrahams said she is thankful for residents’ cooperation with HABC. 

“Folks have to leave where they have been for years and so we are very cognizant of that. And we're doing everything we possibly can to make this transition as smooth as possible,” she said. 

Abrahams said there will be public hearings on legislation that will subsidize the project introduced at the City Council meeting on Aug. 17. 

“I really believe with the partnerships that we have with the state, the city, our developers, our many bankers, that this project will be something we can all be proud of,” she said. 

Sarah Y. Kim is WYPR’s health and housing reporter. Kim is WYPR's Report for America corps member, and Anthony Brandon Fellow. Kim joined WYPR as a 2020-2021 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. Now in her second year as an RFA corps member, Kim is based in Baltimore City.
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