“Look out the window. See those kids walking down the street, laughing and having a good time together? Four years ago that could not have happened. Not in this neighborhood, anyway. It took a lot of creative ideas in marketing, rehabbing, financing, and social services to make it happen.”
This is Lloyd Williams, president of the Verde Group and developer of the neighborhood, sitting in the living room of 1515 Bond Street, a row house characterized by modern, freeflowing architecture, dominated front to back, all 55 feet of it, by a rough-hewn classic Baltimore brick wall that connects a well-appointed living room, dining area, and huge kitchen area.
Mr. Williams goes on, “We have four houses on this block rehabbed and up for sale and seven more have recently sold. At the end of this rainbow there is going to be this whole block of houses, and other blocks in the Oliver area, here in the inner city, an East Baltimore neighborhood that efficient, “green” features of the homes. Buyers of the completed houses include a married couple with two small children, a former resident and retiree returning to the neighborhood, and a buyer relocating from the East Baltimore Development Initiative (EBDI) area. The homes’ sales prices have ranged from $140,000 to $187,000, all without public subsidy.
Recognizing that crime and safety are major considerations for potential purchasers and existing residents, security cameras with live feed to the Baltimore City Police Department have been effective in deterring drug activity in the several-block area. In addition, Bridge is working with the city’s Weatherization Office within the Department of Housing and Community Development to make federal funding for energy-efficient improvements available to existing residents to increase the level of investment in the target blocks.
Kevin Kelvin had been living in a neighborhood that he felt was going down, and he wanted out. To find a house and neighborhood that better suited his expectations, he went online to search for houses in his price range of $155,000, and up popped 1439 North Bond Street. “I could not believe my eyes,” says Mr. Kelvin. He immediately contacted real estate agent Martin Richardson.
“I told the agent that I wanted to see the neighborhood before I toured the model, and so one day I drove over to North Bond Street, and again I couldn’t believe my eyes—the street was wide and clean, and people were out walking. I saw the cameras up, and that arrangement at work made me feel very comfortable, very safe. And as I pulled in front of 1439, a truck pulled up right behind me, and the driver got out and approached me, and asked if I wanted to see the house. He appeared to be one of the construction workers.”
Lloyd Williams explains why the worker was so interested in the potential buyer. “That worker lives in the neighborhood. So like our other workers who live in the neighborhood and are helping to rehab those houses, he has a large stake in who buys the houses. In his heart of hearts, he knows he has an interest in the buyer, not only as a customer but as a neighbor.”
“So together,” Mr. Kelvin continues, “we went through the model. Things worked out well.”
But the process would not have worked so well, or worked at all, were it not for the financing of the project. Mr. Williams explains, “It was Mr. David Borinsky and his Bridge Private Lending group who arranged for the financing of the purchase of the house, one of a group of eight, that the Verde Group bought from the city.”
Mr. Borinsky adds, “Lloyd’s successful sale of a renovated house to a middle-income buyer impressed me and we agreed to combine his knowledge of the neighborhood and his inspired design choices with my loan fund and my relationship with other builders.
“And we agreed that it would only work if we took into account the social and economic dynamics of the neighborhood. Our approach is to ask organizations interested in job training, weatherization, education, aging in place, and so on to consider whether their mission can be enhanced by joining us in Oliver, and the response has been intense. And the Oliver Community Association and its executive director, Nina Harper, have been instrumental in bringing together the stakeholders. This self-organizing collaboration has propelled everyone’s thinking beyond the traditional approaches to urban development. That, combined with our ‘Come Home Baltimore’ sales theme, is catching the attention of people in outlying areas for whom Oliver would not otherwise be on the radar.”
Mr. Kelvin says, “I fell in love with that house and that neighborhood—it was everything we were looking for. I got a mortgage through Wells Fargo and we moved in September 24. Life’s good here.”
“This is succeeding beyond what any of us dared hope when we started,” Mr. Borinsky says. “The goal is an economically integrated neighborhood with no displacement of existing residents, no gentrification, and it looks like we’re getting there.”
The Abell Foundation salutes Bridge Private Lending and its president, David Borinsky, for helping to revive the Oliver neighborhood in Baltimore City—where a neighbor can look out of a window of a house in a once-abandoned inner-city neighborhood and see children walking along, feeling comfortable and safe.