Johns Hopkins University Forms Partnerships to Strengthen Nearby Neighborhoods in Central Baltimore
Johns Hopkins University has long recognized that blighted and unsafe conditions in the neighborhoods surrounding its Homewood campus in Baltimore could deter potential students and staff from affiliating with the university. In 2012, the university commissioned a stakeholder-driven community development study of 10 Central Baltimore neighborhoods to the east, west, and south of the campus, which led to the launch of the Homewood Community Partners Initiative (HCPI), an anchor institution strategy focused on strengthening these neighborhoods. HCPI’s primary goal is to attract 3,000 net new households and $1 billion in capital investment by 2022. HCPI pursues this goal by providing technical support to developers, raising funds for development-related grants and loans, promoting the area to prospective residents and enterprises, and more. One of the largest projects that the initiative helped facilitate, in both square footage and impact, is the mixed-use development Remington Row.
The Redevelopment of Remington Row
Opened in September 2016, Remington Row is a mixed-use development located three blocks from the Johns Hopkins campus in Baltimore’s Remington neighborhood. The 250,000-square-foot building has 5 floors, with 108 apartments above commercial tenants on the ground floor. The one- and two-bedroom apartments are available in floor plans ranging from 606 to 1,200 square feet, and residential tenants have access to amenities such as garage parking, an elevated courtyard, a fitness center, and onsite storage units. Rents for the apartments are below market rate to be affordable to Baltimore’s workforce, and 22 units are restricted to tenants earning no more than 80 percent of the area median income.
The development bustles with activity generated by the commercial tenants, including seven restaurants, a Walgreens pharmacy, and a medical practice. Before Remington Row opened, the site consisted of the remains of a car dealership — a deteriorating building and a bleak expanse of cracked asphalt that covered an entire block — surrounded by a neighborhood peppered with vacant, decaying rowhouses. Unwilling to see the property either deteriorate further or return to an automotive use, HCPI solicited Seawall Development to purchase the site in 2014 and transform it into retail and housing. Independent of its partnership with HCPI, Seawall obtained and redeveloped 14 vacant rowhouses adjacent to the Remington Row project, selling them at cost to Baltimore public schoolteachers and other civic employees to “seed” the neighborhood with community-minded homeowners. The university worked with Johns Hopkins Community Physicians to relocate from the campus to Remington Row, establishing the large tenancy that Seawall needed to secure financing and attract other commercial tenants. Johns Hopkins also provided a small amount of gap financing to account for the increased development expense of the specialized medical space.
The Homewood Community Partners Initiative
Remington Row addresses several of HCPI’s five engagement areas: blight elimination and housing creation; public education; local hiring, purchasing, and workforce development; clean and safe neighborhoods; and commercial and retail development. The initiative’s work has attracted more than 100 public, private, and philanthropic partners. Partners’ projects include helping residential and commercial developers undertake capital projects, supporting two public schools by providing professional development for teachers and programming for students, remediating blighted lots, redeveloping vacant properties, and promoting Central Baltimore to prospective residents and businesses. The university provides an annual grant that funds five full-time staff members at the Central Baltimore Partnership (CBP), who coordinate the work. In 2013, Johns Hopkins committed $10 million to support the initiative, with almost $1 million remaining to be allocated.
To improve housing conditions, HCPI seeks out developers and facilitates beneficial projects. For example, the initiative helps find suitable tenants and secure gap funding, as in the case of Remington Row, and provides technical assistance for tax credit and grant applications. In addition, HCPI offers capital development loans to commercial developers and building owners through its Central Baltimore Future Fund (CBFF), which totaled $10 million as of fall 2019. CBFF also operates a separate $4.5 million acquisition fund to help advance key redevelopment projects. Reinvestment Fund, a national mission-driven financial institution with an office in Baltimore, administers CBFF and underwrites its loans. Johns Hopkins contributed $75,000 to launch the fund and has since helped raise approximately $10 million for CBFF to distribute.
HCPI also funds groups working on a small scale. One of HCPI’s earliest funding efforts was the Community Spruce-Up program, which was launched in 2014 to support community-driven efforts to remediate problems such as vacant lots, neglected park space, and areas with insufficient lighting. The program grants have also supported the planting of more than 170 curbside trees, the installation of new pedestrian lighting and public art, and the construction of several new public gathering places. HCPI coordinator CBP has issued 55 grants, usually between $5,000 and $10,000, to residents, merchant associations, community groups, and other organizations that then raise their own matching funds to cover the balance of the project cost. The program grants, which total $900,000, have facilitated $3.1 million in project spending. The program was launched by CBP and Johns Hopkins University and funded by $500,000 from the state of Maryland and $100,000 from the R.W. Deutsch Foundation, as well as $380,000 from Johns Hopkins.
The Housing Outcomes of a Broad Strategy
Salem Reiner, the university’s associate director for economic development, estimates that HCPI’s efforts have added nearly 2,000 housing units to the area’s stock, about one-third of which have income restrictions or other measures to maintain affordability. The new units include approximately 450 renovated, formerly vacant rowhouses, about 420 of which are occupied as of fall 2019, resulting in a 57 percent reduction in the number of vacant residential units in Central Baltimore. Reiner reports that, in addition to HCPI’s efforts, Johns Hopkins has supported the construction of several hundred units of student housing. These and other impacts helped motivate HCPI to continue its efforts past the initiative’s original 2018 expiration date. Meanwhile, Johns Hopkins is also evaluating how best to accomplish its anchor mission. To further its commitment to HCPI and its role as an anchor institution in other endeavors, Johns Hopkins opened the Office of the Vice President for Economic Development, headed by Reiner, in summer 2019.