Walter D. Webdale, President and CEO of AHC Inc.
Baltimore’s Park Heights neighborhood has been home for generations of families. But the community of row houses, parks and churches experienced decades of decay that deterred new investments. Revitalization efforts needed a jumpstart, and one particular block of abandoned crumbling homes seemed the perfect place to launch the process.
Baltimore’s Park Heights neighborhood has been home for generations of West Baltimore families and includes parks and churches as well as residences. The neighborhood has experienced decades of decay and a lack of investment. In 2008, AHC purchased and renovated a 301-unit affordable apartment community for seniors and people with disabilities known as MonteVerde Apartments in the Park Heights neighborhood. The road leading to the apartment complex was full of abandoned, crumbling row houses, so in 2010 AHC decided to build on its commitment to the neighborhood and tackle the blighted block with a homeownership project called MonteVerde Rowe.
The mission of AHC is to produce and preserve quality affordable housing for low- and moderate-income individuals and families. Founded in 1975, AHC focused primarily on Northern Virginia until 2001, when the organization purchased its first property in Baltimore, Greenspring Overlook, a 189-unit property also located in the Park Heights neighborhood. Since then, AHC has invested nearly $60 million in four affordable housing developments in that neighborhood.
“AHC believes we can make a bigger impact in the community by focusing our investment in a specific area,” explains Andrew Vincent, director of AHC Greater Baltimore. “Providing opportunities for more quality affordable housing in a concentrated area can help tip the balance in a neighborhood and bring it to life.”
AHC’s $30-million investment in the two 13-story buildings at MonteVerde Apartments transformed the run-down property and provided more community space, updated kitchens and baths, new windows and heating and cooling systems. A thriving program for residents improves their physical and mental health and their ability to age in place. However, Violet Avenue, the road leading to the apartments, was an eyesore ridden with boarded-up windows and trees growing out of the sagging roofs of abandoned row houses.
Since 2010, in order to maximize its impact, AHC has focused its attention on one block of Violet Avenue. AHC has purchased 12 homes – about two-thirds of the block. Most have been fully renovated, with more construction projects slated to begin soon.
Each townhome is constructed to accentuate the charm and character of its historic nature while leveraging modern design standards, current technology and today’s most desirable finishes. These three-bedroom and two-bedroom with den homes include features such as granite countertops, exposed brick, recessed lighting, energy-efficient appliances and fenced backyards.
Along with interior renovations, AHC is also improving the overall look of the street. We have cleaned up the block extensively, clearing junk piles and fencing yards to prevent dumping. To spruce up the block still more, AHC planted trees and flowers and repaired steps and sidewalks along the street – whether we owned the adjacent homes or not.
AHC is working hard to strengthen ties with the community and has formed partnerships with the local neighborhood association and the City of Baltimore. AHC is working with the Baltimore Vacants to Value program to provide extra incentives to first-time homebuyers. MonteVerde Rowe is on the city’s annual tour of homeownership opportunities, which helps boost awareness of the renovated community. Events to gather residents together to build more community cohesion are planned.
The project has been slow going, but AHC is committed to investing the time and effort to make a difference. The dedication is beginning to pay off. So far, four first-time homebuyers, including a nurse and a postal worker, have purchased homes. Several of the individuals grew up in the neighborhood or nearby and are thrilled to become homeowners.
We are making progress with the rest of the block and hope to sell more homes. Three more homes are completely renovated and ready for sale. Two homes are under construction and construction will begin on two more soon.
AHC has learned lessons along the way. Transforming a neighborhood takes time and doesn't happen overnight. Renovating a block is a big challenge, but changing the perception of a neighborhood is even harder. Baltimore has some challenging neighborhoods and a renovated block is just a drop in the bucket. Often, people love MonteVerde Rowe’s renovated houses, but are scared away by the neighborhood - even though the block looks very welcoming and safe. Another lesson we've learned is that this type of project takes a village. Working with the city government, community associations, local leaders and other neighbors is critical.
The reward is that the block is beginning to bloom. Last winter, possibly for the first time ever, MonteVerde Rowe sparkled with festive holiday lights. The lights were just the latest indication the block is coming back to life after decades of disinvestment. And, four families so far are putting down roots and stabilizing their families in affordable, high-quality homes.