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Affordable Housing Community Opens In Johnston Square

Dozens of community members, local leaders and developers gathered for a ribbon cutting ceremony Thursday for the grand opening of Greenmount & Chase, an affordable housing community in the Johnston Square neighborhood.

The new building stands in what used to be an empty lot at 700 E Chase Street. It cost $16.6 million, and is the first major project completed as part of a larger $160 million revitalization plan for Johnston Square, a neighborhood that has dealt with disinvestment and urban blight for several decades.

Greenmount & Chase has 60 apartments. Amenities include a fitness room, game room, and resident lounge. It’s also close to several bus routes, parks, and schools.

Sean Closkey, CEO of ReBUILD Metro, a local nonprofit behind the project, said this is not development done the usual way.

“We wanted this building to really be the stepping stone, really be part of something else, part of a transformation that started with a community's vision and a community's aspiration, to be remembered, to be loved and to be part of something vibrant,” Closkey said.

A key community member driving the vision for Johnston Square is Regina Hammond. Hammond has lived here for 30 years. She is the executive director of Rebuild Johnston Square Neighborhood Organization.

Eight years ago, Hammond and local organizers set out to transform their neighborhood. In 2013 she held a community meeting with more than 150 fellow residents at the Johnston Square Elementary School.

“They wanted recreation. They wanted housing, affordable housing. They wanted to feel safe in their neighborhood,” she said.

Hammond said that the development plan would not lead to her neighbors being displaced.

“You people who have been in Johnston square through the good, the bad, the ugly, I want you to know, you're not going anywhere. You're not going to be put out, you're not going to be out-taxed, you’re not going to be outpriced,” she said.

Hammond said that Maryland Secretary of Housing and Community Development Kenneth Holt has agreed to protect legacy residents. They’re also seeking additional funds.

Holt, who was present at the event, announced that his department was funding the development of Johnston Square with an additional $2.5 million. That money will go to acquisition and rehabilitation for single family home ownership.

“It’s a national model,” Holt said of the development project. “And we hope that other cities across the nation are going to follow suit.”

Mayor Brandon Scott said that Greenmount & Chase is what progress should look like in Baltimore.

“This is history,” he said. “This is the model for how we have to work together, and community development.”

Scott said he spent a lot of time in Johnston Square as a boy, buying supplies for his family’s air conditioning and heating business. Back then, he said he would not have imagined seeing a building like Greenmount & Chase.

“If you asked a 17, 18, 19-year old Brandon Scott, if this was possible at this corner, I would have laughed at you,” Scott said. “But this today showed the determination of a community that believes in itself, believes in this city and believes in the future in the possibility.”

Also present at the ceremony were City Council President Nick Mosby and Councilman Robert Stokes, whose district includes Johnston Square, as well as Sen. Cory McCray

The building already has some residents, including Jerel Holder. He’s been living in Greenmount & Chase for two and a half months. He says his apartment is spacious and clean, and he has no complaints.

“Nothing bad to say about this building,” Holder said. “They need more buildings like this around the community, everywhere in Baltimore.”

Fellow resident Courtney Dyer says she struggled to find affordable housing in Baltimore until finding Greenmount & Chase. As a single mother, she says she is now able to create stability for her family.

“I'm proud to say that this is my son and I’s new home,” Dyer said. “We couldn't be happier.”

Other partners that contributed to the project include the city housing department, Ingerman, a development company that does multi-family housing and Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development.

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.