Abell Salutes: Community Law Center

March 2005 / Salutes / Community Development

To see their work, walk down your street.

The East Baltimore neighborhood that hugs the northwest corner of Patterson Park, taking in the well-kept row houses of Streeper, Linwood and Lombard Streets and Fairmount Avenue, was in the 1990s, after a decade of instability through the 1980s, a neighborhood on the way back. But a roadblock presented itself—the insidious practice of “flipping”– the illegal selling of a house at inflated value based on a fraudulent appraisal. The effect was to deflate the property values of the neighborhood, compromise its quality of life, and dampen the spirits of its aspiring homeowners.

At the same time, over in West Baltimore in the Druid Heights neighborhood—bounded by (clockwise) North Avenue, Tiffany Alley, Laurens Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, rehabilitation was being seriously and negatively affected by the problems of vacant housing, bound up in turn with the problems of absentee landlords.

These City neighborhoods, along with dozens of others, have turned for relief to the Community Law Center, an inventive, knowledgeable and energetic resource, which has taken on the role in Baltimore City life of providing support for the development and sustainability of all Baltimore City neighborhoods.

Exactly how is Community Law Center accomplishing this, day by day?

Its programming provides pro-bono community legal services, help with ending predatory real estate practices, and legal support for resolving environmental issues and small business development. It has brought into being three significant State laws that give hundreds of community associations the tools to improve the quality of life in their neighborhoods: Vacant Housing Nuisance Law; Drug Nuisance Law; and Community Bill of Rights.

This large and challenging can-do agenda came into being largely through the efforts of Anne Blumenberg. Twenty years ago Ms. Blumenberg was convinced that community organizations played a critical role in the development and sustainability of neighborhoods. She conceived the idea that they needed the advice and advocacy power of attorneys, so as to find ways to use the law to improve community conditions. Legal services organizations traditionally represent individual clients. And while federal law prohibits some from representing groups, most choose not to depart from the tradition of representing only individual clients.

In 1986, Ms. Blumemberg formed the Community Law Center as a nonprofit law office to provide legal assistance to low-income communities and faith-based organizations. The Center has grown into a vibrant legal practice both creating and implementing legal tools to help neighborhood residents combat the proliferation of vacant abandoned housing and crime that drives abandonment and disinvestment. The Community Law Center remains today as the key legal services organization in Baltimore dedicated to strengthening Baltimore City neighborhoods.

The results of the Center’s work make themselves known day by day in neighborhoods across Baltimore City, in the way neighborhood life changes – as nuisance activities are addressed, and vacant houses are renovated and reoccupied—all of which generate pride and stimulate investment.

The Abell Foundation salutes Anne Blumenberg for her commitment to helping neighborhoods solve problems, and for creating and leading the Community Law Center.

Jackie Cornish, executive director of the Druid Heights Community Center, makes the case: “When the Center is at work for your neighborhood, you know it. Just walk down the street!”