Support for an Affordable Housing Project Stirs Debate in Locust Point

| November 15, 2023 | 0 Comments

A proposal to add nine affordable housing studio apartments to the second and third story of the Immigrant House at Locust Point Community Church at 1308 Beason St. is seeking the support of the Locust Point community before moving forward. Locust Point Community Church is partnering with Cornerstone Community Housing (CCH) and Earl’s Place on the project.

Locust Point Community Church has been referred to in the community as “The German Church” over the years. It has been in Locust Point since 1887 and the Immigrant House was built in 1904. The Immigrant House previously served as temporary housing for newly-arrived European immigrants.

The first floor of the space is currently the Baltimore Immigration Museum and Pastor Johnny Ramsey’s office. The upper floors are currently “in severe disrepair.”

The studio apartments will be permanent housing for graduates of Earl’s Place Transitional Housing Program. Tenants, who are previously homeless men, will pay 30 percent of their gross income as rent.

From the statement of need by CCH:

Most of the men who come to Earl’s Place do so after completing a substance abuse treatment program. Prior to seeking treatment, their homeless experiences often include sporadic stays in shelters, nights spent outside or in abandon buildings, and limited stays with family or friends. They may or may not have met the definition of chronically homeless prior to substance use treatment. However, once they have been in treatment more than 90 days, they are no longer considered chronically homeless and are not eligible for many of the affordable housing options or supportive housing programs available to Housing First participants.

Read the full statement here.

The apartments will vary in size from 219 to 511 sq. ft. Each unit will have a kitchen, bathroom, and living/sleeping space. Two units will be reserved for individuals with very low income who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). The other seven apartments will be for individuals who are employed and earn a minimum annual income of $31,200.

The entrance will be in the rear of the building, and there will be an elevator.

Pastor Ramsey along with CCH Executive Director Sheila Helgerson met with the Locust Point Civic Association (LPCA) last Wednesday at its General Membership meeting. A crowd of more than 100 was in attendance to learn more about the project which has stirred debates in the community and on Locust Point Facebook groups.

Pastor Ramsey said they are against selling the property to a developer and see the building as “a mission to be good stewards with what God has blessed us with.” Pastor Ramsey and Helgerson said they’d like the support of the community before moving forward.

A vote on whether to support the project was scheduled for the LPCA meeting last week, but was delayed by the development team to allow more time to share information on the project.

Locust Point Community Church invited neighbors to an information session at its church this past Sunday.

Locust Point Community Church and CCH have teamed up to hire an architect for the project, but do not have construction plans and do not have funding in place to execute the development at this time. The team will seek State and local grants to fund the project, as well as Baltimore Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP) tax credits. The property does not need any zoning changes as it’s already zoned for residential use.

CCH currently runs Prospect Place in Rosedale which has 12 studio apartments. Earl’s Place provides transitional housing and meals for 17 men in Fells Point.

Pastor Ramsey, Helgerson, and additional CCH staff members fielded questions from the LPCA meeting attendees last week. They noted this is “permanent housing” for the future tenants. Each tenant will have a lease and can get evicted if they violate it.

The men are often graduates of a drug treatment program before enrolling at Earl’s Place and are drug tested while at Earl’s Place, but will not be drug tested while living at the Immigrant House. Several in attendance pushed back at this, but Helgerson stated that leases for other permanent housing in the community do not have drug testing requirements.

When asked, Helgerson noted sex offenders are not part of the program. CCH also stated that no loitering will be allowed around the property.

The maintenance staff of Locust Point Community Church and outside contractors will maintain the facility as needed. This will be funded by the rent collected.

CCH staff will also meet with the tenants on a “regular basis to help ensure continued success.”

Several different attendees of the meeting, including some residing in the blocks surrounding the project, criticized the “lack of communication” about the project in the days leading up to the meeting as a vote was scheduled to take place.

Some attendees showed support for the project noting “the need for affordable housing in Baltimore” as others noted the prevalence of drug addictions “all over the community” and the “need to give second chances.”

One Locust Point resident familiar with CCH called it “the best program I’ve ever seen.”

The meeting stirred debate about the project with many back-and-forth discussions among the project team, attendees, and the LPCA board members. Meeting minutes are available here.

The project is back on the agenda for the January 10th LPCA General Membership meeting.

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