At the Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference, participants have the opportunity to see firsthand all the great work underway in the host City.
One of this year’s Mobile Workshops, “Turning around Sandtown: How Nonprofits and Residents Are Resurrecting a Neighborhood,” visits, among other places, successful and future housing development projects to learn about supportive neighborhood services and hear from residents about how nonprofits are playing a role in Sandtown’s turnaround.
To learn a little bit more about this opportunity, we connected with Mike Posko, chief executive officer at Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake, and Todd Marcus, executive director of Intersection of Change, both organizers of this session. Here’s what they had to say:
Can you tell me a little bit about your workshop and what attendees can expect?
Mike Posko (MP): Workshop attendees can expect to hear about the extraordinary partnerships in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood. For more than 10 years, Habitat for Humanity has been committed to revitalizing Baltimore’s depressed Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood.
Todd Marcus (TM): In 1996 the community based nonprofit Intersection of Change (IOC) acquired a single building on Baltimore’s historic Pennsylvania Avenue. The avenue had served for decades as the arts and entertainment center of Baltimore’s African American community but had also experienced decades of decline amidst challenges of poverty. By 1996 the building obtained by IOC sat at the corner of an intersection where every building extending for a block was abandoned and vacant. Additionally, a park on one corner hosted a major open air drug market.
Today, through the work of IOC, this intersection has been fully revitalized and nicknamed Resurrection Intersection. Work to date has renovated six previously vacant and dilapidated buildings, transformed 18 vacant lots into community green spaces and meditative gardens, created seven prominent murals, and resulted in significant neighborhood revitalization of the 1900 and 2000 blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Attendees in this session will learn how a small community nonprofit with limited funding has worked to accomplished these outcomes and transform an area that once seemed beyond hope into an asset of the community.
What do you want conference-goers to know about Baltimore before they come?
MP: Baltimore is a great place to live and work. Our neighborhoods offer great culture, access to public transit, affordability and charm.
How do you view vacant property revitalization work as connected to the greater movement for social justice in the city?
MP: Our toolbox includes more than just housing. For low-income families in Baltimore to succeed, sometimes the dynamics of the neighborhood must improve. Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake focuses on a holistic approach that expands our partnerships beyond just the traditional homeownership opportunities. Our partnerships bring financial literacy, employment and community service opportunities.
What inspires you to dedicate time and effort to the revitalization of Sandtown?
MP: Sandtown is home to about 8,500 people — down from 11,000 in the 1990s. The 72-block neighborhood is part of West Baltimore and about half of the children live below the poverty line, nearly a quarter are out of work, and the homicide rate is higher than many other city neighborhoods. We’ve proven that change can happen with support and empowerment of residents who live here. From new schools to community centers to retail and employment opportunities, we are dedicated to helping this community grows.
TM: Intersection of Change is a nonprofit dedicated to serving our Sandtown-Winchester, Upton and surrounding communities with a mission to provide programs that enrich the economic, social and spiritual lives of those dealing with poverty related issues. Our organization is very much a community-based nonprofit focused on community development in west Baltimore. Staffing is primarily composed of either indigenous community residents or people that have relocated to be permanent residents in the community with a focus on being servant leaders.