McElderry Park is at crossroads. For decades, our community has experienced disinvestment that has kept housing prices low. But by sitting on vacant properties or barely maintaining cheap rentals, speculators were betting that prices would start to rise - and now, they are. Housing prices on some blocks in McElderry Park have increased by more than 500% in just the last year, and rents are rising dramatically. In the neighborhood with the highest rate of renting residents in the city, that's a major problem. Long-term residents face eviction and rents so high they can't possibly afford them, and folks who have invested blood, sweat, and tears into making the neighborhood better might be forced to move away. But McElderry Park has a tool to make sure that those who have stayed through the tough times will be here during the good times as well: Community Land Ownership.
It's something that we have already shown works. The Amazing Port Street Commons is the only green space in McElderry Park - and it's our land. Twenty years ago, the City decided to tear down a block of vacant homes, and the community decided that land could be something better. They came together to build a beautiful garden, and Charm City Land Trusts was formed to hold this land as an open, community space forever. We're a community-based nonprofit of McElderry Park residents and neighborhood stakeholders dedicated to stewarding land in our neighborhood. Up until now, we have only held green space in the neighborhood - but the neighborhood is changing, and so are we.
Through Charm City Land Trust, we can acquire, renovate, rent and sell housing that will stay permanently affordable. We want to renovate homes and sell them to longtime members of our community so that they won't be pushed out by rising rents - and they will agree to make sure that the home is affordable to the next buyer. By working together and trusting each other, we can keep our community intact and regain control over land in McElderry Park that has been controlled by outside investors for too long.
We already own a vacant house at 520 N. Luzerne St. Wells Fargo foreclosed on it during the Great Recession, without a plan that would happen next - and we were able to acquire it from them. We know we can renovate and sell it to someone in the community. And we think we can get them a mortgage and get the monthly payment down to around $500.
If we’re able to do this with one house, there’s no stopping us. We’ll get more houses and will do more renovations. We can make sure that long-time residents of McElderry Park aren't just pushed around by speculative development as our neighborhood changes, but can actually be in the driver's seat for some of those changes.
But we have to prove that we can do it.
520 N. Luzerne will be the proof. We have a plan, and we have number estimates. Someone out to make a profit would sell that house for $140,000. We think we can sell it close to $100,000, by raising $40,000 through a crowd-funding campaign. It’s a way of taking what little each of has and multiplying it, like the fish and loaves.
Our fish and loaves will be what each of us can bring. Walking or running in a 5K. Holding a house party. Making artwork. Auctioning off a unique item or skill. And it will not just be our contributions—they will be matched by others who think community land ownership is the way to Fair Development.
And we will succeed.
Three years ago, Baltimore City had no plan for affordable housing. Eighteen thousand of us changed that by putting on the Ballot an Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which passed. This summer, another 18,000 of us made sure that Fund gets $20 million put into it annually.
We’ve got time before that money is available. Time to prove to all that if we can do it with one house and no Trust Fund money, that we can repeat it over and over again with funds from the Trust.
We are at the crossroads. And we have the power to choose the direction we want to go.