Second phase of $1 billion housing development begins in East Baltimore

“Wearing brown leather shoes, a blue plaid suit and a white hard hat, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott climbed into the cab of the excavator, pushed and pulled on the levers, and — under the supervision of a trained operator — began to demolish the final vacant building in what was once a block full of public housing units.

The made-for-TV moment capped off a groundbreaking Wednesday afternoon for the second phase of one of the city’s most ambitious housing developments.

Baltimore is now several years into the demolition and reconstruction of Perkins Homes, part of a larger, $1 billion plan known as Perkins Somerset Oldtown that will span 244 acres in East Baltimore between downtown and the Johns Hopkins Hospital campus.

City and state officials gathered near the intersection of Bond and Gough streets to give an update on the development, which is expected to one day house thousands of Baltimoreans in a mixture of low-income and
market-rate units.

On nearby blocks, crews with jackhammers were actively demolishing old construction, while in other areas workers already had started putting up the wood framing for new buildings. This area was part of Perkins Homes, a public housing project of boxy red brick buildings built in 1942 specifically for white workers during World War II. The plan also incorporates another public housing site — Somerset Homes — as well as Oldtown, both of which are located several blocks north of Perkins Homes.
“This is a legacy project that will change the lives of generations to come,” Scott told the crowd. “I look forward to the continued progress, growth and opportunities that this multifaceted initiative will bring to Baltimore City.” There were more than 600 households in the Perkins Homes complex, and residents began moving out as early as 2019.

Jake Day, secretary of the Maryland Department of Housing & Community Development, pointed to the vacant structures standing across the street. Someone had spray-painted graffiti on the walls and broken windows. Parts of the building had visible fire damage.

Day said the state of Maryland contributed nearly $40 million to the second phase of the project, bringing the total state investment for Perkins Somerset Oldtown to about $250 million.

 “Working together, we can make policy decisions that put a roof over every Marylander’s head, that lend dignity to people’s lives and transform public housing into thriving, economically diverse communities,” Day said. “I’m proud to say that we know that Baltimore is the epicenter of change for Maryland.”

In a news release, the Housing Authority of Baltimore City described Perkins Somerset Oldtown as a nine-phase project spread over multiple sites with different phases of construction and demolition overlapping. This second phase involves the construction of 156 homes in two four-story buildings and four town home buildings.

Housing Authority President and CEO Janet Abrahams said four different developers are working simultaneously on the site because of its scope and size.

“We have a large project here moving all at the same time because we have a deadline,” Abrahams said.

According to Abrahams, the housing authority is expecting to complete 1,360 housing units by 2025 and 2,172 total units by 2030. By 2025, there also will be a grocery store, with office space and more retail coming in following years, she said.

Richard Baron, co-founder of McCormack Baron Salazar, the lead developer for the new Perkins Homes thanked the displaced residents for their patience.

“It’s very difficult to come into a community that’s been here for all these decades, and to talk about a vision for what a new community could be and to gain the confidence of the residents,” Baron said. “The delay and the wait will be more than compensated for when this development opens and people get a chance to come back.”

Longtime resident Denise Street also spoke at Wednesday’s event. Street lived in Perkins Homes for nearly 50 years and is now the tenant council president. In terse remarks, she thanked the city and gave a shoutout to former Mayor Bernard “Jack” Young, who was in office when demolition began.

 “On behalf of myself and the residents, I want to say thank you to everybody,” Street said. “And our former mayor, Mr. Young, we haven’t forgotten you.””


-Article in Baltimore Sun – Giacomo Bologna

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