Introduction

Since 2002, the Annie E. Casey Foundation has played a leading role in the East Baltimore Revitalization Initiative, a large-scale, innovative effort to transform a deeply distressed neighborhood adjacent to the Johns Hopkins University and Hospital complex into a mixed-income residential community and engine of economic opportunity for both long-time and new residents. The project’s ambitious long-term goals are to create roughly 2,200 new and rehabilitated green homes, two million square feet of commercial space, including a research park, a state-of-the-art elementary and middle school, a grocery store and retail outlets as well as new public space and new recreational settings.

The Casey Foundation’s role has centered on helping residents protect their interests during the redevelopment. We’ve learned that if people are involved from the outset and their voices are listened to carefully and respectfully, we can find a better approach to redevelopment, one that makes communities stronger for kids and families.

This better approach to “responsible redevelopment” involves:

  • Creating real choices and opportunities for residents;
  • Developing new partnerships so that the community has a more viable future; and
  • Investing by public and private partners for the benefit of residents in the community.

This website provides a brief overview of the project’s goals, strategies, and results to date. It will be updated with new reports and products by the Casey Foundation detailing the East Baltimore Revitalization Initiative’s work and lessons.

A Brief Overview of East Baltimore

From their origins in the late 19th century through the 1960s, the many distinct neighborhoods of East Baltimore were bustling working-class communities. However, beginning in the 1960s, these neighborhoods, like many others in the city, were devastated by a “perfect storm” of crippling trends and tragic events—the dramatic loss of manufacturing jobs and tax base; the ruinous riots of 1967 and 1968; the exodus of first white, then African-American, middle-class families; the sequential epidemics of heroin, crack cocaine, and HIV; the intensified crime and gang activity that fed and feasted off of the drug trade; and the activities of slumlords, property flippers, and predatory lenders. The end result has been an ever-deepening cycle of disinvestment and decline.

No community in East Baltimore was harder hit than the neighborhood called Middle East. Although it was located immediately to the north of the campus of the world-renowned Johns Hopkins Institutions, Middle East was one of Baltimore’s toughest neighborhoods by any measure. According to the 2000 census, it was the city’s second poorest neighborhood with a median household income of $14,900, less than half the city’s median household income. Fewer than half of the community’s working-age adults were in the labor force, and more than one-third of households had incomes below the poverty level. In 2000, the vacancy rate was five times that of Baltimore City and many of the occupied units were in very poor condition.  The median sales price of a home was $28,000—less than half the median for the city. The rates for crime and for domestic violence in Middle East were nearly double those for the city as a whole, and the incidence of child abuse and lead poisoning were among the highest in Baltimore.

But the residents of Middle East were also tough in a positive sense. Despite the distressed conditions, many residents retained a deep and abiding attachment to their neighborhood and each other. A significant share of Middle East residents were longstanding homeowners and many renters had resided in the community for a long time.

Over the past few decades, several efforts sought to arrest and reverse the downward trajectory of Middle East and other East Baltimore communities through incremental, scattered-site approaches to revitalization. These attempts, however, proved inadequate to stem the worsening living conditions and led city leaders to consider a wholesale redevelopment effort that would use the city’s powers of eminent domain to acquire, demolish, and rebuild large numbers of severely distressed properties all at once.

This rethinking led to the East Baltimore Revitalization Initiative. First announced by then-Mayor Martin O’Malley in early 2001, the plan envisioned a project costing more than $1 billion to acquire and demolish hundreds of homes in the Middle East neighborhood, relocate several hundred households, and create a renewed 88-acre community featuring research facilities for life sciences and biotechnology, retail development, and housing. In sum, the plan aspired to replicate the outcome of efforts that had recently strengthened other Baltimore neighborhoods.

In 2002, Mayor O’Malley, Joseph Haskins, President and CEO of Harbor Bank (the oldest and largest minority-owned bank in Maryland), and leaders of Johns Hopkins sought support from the Annie E. Casey Foundation for the East Baltimore project.