In 1996, watching conditions in the Patterson Park neighborhoods worsening, Ed Rutkowski formed Patterson Park Community Development Corporation (CDC). His effort was strengthened by a $40,000 grant from The Abell Foundation and a commitment from the Foundation to guarantee a portion of private bank loans for acquisition and renovation of area houses.
With the benefit of community representation, Rutkowski and his board defined the neighborhoods to be targeted as those lying north and east of the park.
In the first nine months of its operation, the CDC completed renovations on three houses. Initially, the market was flat. To create incentives designed to attract buyers, the CDC partnered with the Foundation and together created programs that offered free tuition to St. Elizabeth’s Catholic school, and a Home Value Guarantee program that underwrote payment of property value declines for owner-occupants.
Under Rutkowski’s leadership the CDC has created important market-setting renovations of vacant houses, and has sold nearly 200 houses to homeowners. Over 15 banks and lending institutions have provided financing for purchase and innovation, and funding support has come from all levels of government, and both local and national foundations. The organization now maintains a sizable rental portfolio of formerly vacant properties.
Over the past ten years, Rutkowski’s efforts have helped to stabilize and improve the neighborhoods of Patterson Park. In 1995, he joined neighborhood residents in purchasing and renovating properties for sale. Before the concept was fully tested, he created the Patterson Park Neighborhood Initiative to hire organizers to help define the issues affecting their neighborhoods: a high crime rate, insufficient city services, decreasing population. He became a careful student of neighborhood dynamics affecting Patterson Park, the increase in foreclosure and vacancy, and effects of rapid racial change and drug activity. He co-authored a book on his findings, The Urban Transition Zone.
Rutkowski identified the key to neighborhood revival – safety in the park. He felt strongly that the neighbors had to feel comfortable using it, day and night, and to that end he supported the development of the non-profit Friends of Patterson Park to help achieve the goal. Recognizing that the park was undervalued and under-programmed, the Friends became advocates for the park. They raised money for the redevelopment of the boat lake, the pagoda, the marble fountain, the playground, and perimeter lighting. At the same time, they developed a program of events, as many as 50 each year. The Friends are true stewards of the park, logging thousands of volunteer hours each year to staff the pagoda and participate in clean-ups and events.
The CDC has pioneered the design concepts of combining antiquated alley houses into spacious, state-of-the-art houses. The agency has worked with neighbors and the police on issues of crime, and has brought resources into the neighborhood that help keep the streets and alleys clean.
Ed Rutkowski’s energy and enthusiasm for the neighborhood over the past ten years are exemplary. The Baltimore Sun called the Patterson Park CDC “an urban success story.”
The Abell Foundation salutes Ed Rutkowski and the Patterson Park Community Development Corporation, for mastering neighborhood dynamics, for creating an urban success story.