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Neighborhood Watch

Patterson Park CDC files for bankruptcy, leaving the area's future in question

Photographs by Frank Klein
The first block of North Port Street (left), where the Patterson Park CDC has rehabbed a number of houses; the 100 block of Port Street (right), where Patterson Park CDC owns houses that it hasn't worked on yet.
The Decker Walk Project (left) where the Patterson Park CDC rehabbed existing houses into "envirowhomes"; (right) the opposite side of the same block of North Decker Street.

By Erin Sullivan | Posted 3/11/2009

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It's around 4 o'clock on a February afternoon, and the 100 block of North Port Street is deserted save for a couple of cats yowling for attention. The wind blows candy wrappers and empty potato-chip bags around on the sidewalks, until they collect in the doorways of one of the vacant buildings that dot this particular block.

106 N. Port looks like it may have burned, based on the blackened-looking Formstone framing some of the windows and doors, all of which are covered with fresh sheets of plywood. 112 N. Port has been foreclosed--three stickers from Safeguard Properties are posted to the door. 117 bears a banner announcing that this is another fine custom home from jkm properties, but a search in the city's building-permits database shows that the last permit pulled to work on this house expired in December 2008. 129 N. Port's front door is now boarded up and stamped with a no trespassing, no loitering warning. A breeze blows around some ratty curtains that hang in knots in the open upstairs windows.

Jimmie Ray Oxendine is standing on the front steps of 105 N. Port, a Formstone-covered rowhouse he rents near the corner of East Fairmount Avenue. He points out which houses are rentals, which have been worked on recently, and which have been neglected for years. A handful, he says, are owned by absentee landlords who own multiple properties in the area and don't do anything with them except collect the rent. Two, three, even four families (mostly Latin-American) crowd into some of these narrow single-family homes, paying rents as high as $1,800 per month. "Slumlords," he says, are all over this neighborhood and things have only been getting worse since the economy has plummeted.

There are 40 properties on this block of North Port, according to the Maryland State Department of Assessment and Taxation, but only seven of them are owned by the people who actually live in them. The others are mostly owned by property developers, landlords, real-estate speculators. Records indicate, however, that nine of them belong to the Patterson Park Community Development Corporation (PPCDC), an ambitious nonprofit community revitalization and development organization that rehabbed and then rented or resold hundreds of properties in this part of East Baltimore.

The view from Oxendine's front steps is completely different than the view from the steps of any of the houses just one block south on Port, where several years ago the PPCDC bought up as many of the decrepit buildings as it could and poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into them. It removed faded Formstone to reveal the handsome brick facades hidden beneath. It gutted interiors and installed gourmet kitchens, central air, gas fireplaces, and whirlpool tubs. It turned some of the narrow alley houses into 2,000-square-foot doublewides with state-of-the-art kitchens, 20-foot ceilings, and floating fireplaces. These homes, redubbed the Palaces on Port Street, were priced at $400,000 and up.

Instead of sheets of plywood and no trespassing signs, there are welcome mats and decorative planters on the first block of Port. The majority of the people who live here own their homes and many of them paid a tidy sum for them, but scattered between the higher-end homes are more modest houses--some appear rehabbed, others not. Blocks like this, according to Ed Rutkowski, founder and former executive director of the PPCDC, represent the organization's greatest success.

"The neighborhood is an amazing, stable mix of black, white, and brown," Rutkowski says in an e-mailed response to questions about the PPCDC. "There aren't many neighborhoods of this size in the entire country of which that can be said."

The Patterson Park Community Development Corporation, which is largely credited with stabilizing and turning around the neighborhoods north of Patterson Park over the course of the past decade, declared bankruptcy last month. It cited the crumbling U.S. economy and the fact that one of its lenders, Bradford Federal Savings Bank, placed liens against some of the organization's properties, putting its ability to pay back other creditors in jeopardy. Bradford Bank representatives did not return calls for this story.

PPCDC's bankruptcy means that the fate of these two blocks of North Port Street--and the many other nearby blocks where PPCDC owns properties it has not yet rehabbed or sold--is now in question. Indeed, the bankruptcy leaves a number of things in question. Some think the organization will liquidate its assets and fold; others say it could remain a small but going concern in the area. And it's equally unclear what the future holds for the neighborhoods around Patterson Park that the organization revitalized and supported--and, at times, propped up.

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