Strong City Baltimore’s mission is to “build and strengthen neighborhoods and people,” and for the past 15 years one way we have done that is through our partnership with the Healthy Neighborhoods program.
Healthy Neighborhoods encourages homeowner investment in stable but generally undervalued areas of Baltimore. These places, often called “middle neighborhoods” because they are neither badly distressed nor rapidly gentrifying, are among the most lively and diverse neighborhoods in Baltimore and other cities. But they are at risk.
An April 2020 report for the Abell Foundation by urban scholar Alan Mallach found that “The city’s middle-income neighborhoods are disappearing. Today, Baltimore has far more lower-income and upper-income neighborhoods, but fewer middle-income neighborhoods, than in 2000.” Although gentrification remains a concern, the Mallach report shows that in Baltimore, the bigger problem is deterioration, with many more homeowners fleeing neighborhoods because of declining conditions than because of rising prices.
Healthy Neighborhoods addresses this challenge by creating incentives for people to live, stay, and invest in Baltimore’s traditional blue-collar and middle-class neighborhoods. As one of several nonprofits that serve as organizers/administrators for the program, Strong City is responsible for the following neighborhoods: Abell, Barclay, Better Waverly, Charles Village, Ednor Gardens, Harwood, Old Goucher, Remington, and Waverly. Healthy Neighborhoods home improvement loans and grants are available everywhere in those neighborhoods. Purchase/rehab loans are limited to specific “target blocks” in Barclay, Harwood, and Better Waverly but are available throughout the other neighborhoods.
Healthy Neighborhoods differs from a typical lender in a number of ways, including the fact that it is Baltimore-based and (unlike most banks) is a nonprofit dedicated to serving the community, not shareholders. Perhaps the program’s biggest draw is its matching rehab grant: when obtaining a home mortgage or taking out a home improvement loan, Healthy Neighborhoods customers can receive a dollar-for-dollar match up to $10,000 for those earning less than 120% of Area Median Income.
But the $10,000 grant is just one of Healthy Neighborhoods’ distinctive features. The program offers three kinds of loans: purchase/rehab for new buyers, home improvement loans for established homeowners (projects up to $30,000), and refinance/renovation loans for homeowners wanting to do more extensive projects. Other special aspects of Healthy Neighborhoods loans include:
Another popular feature of Healthy Neighborhoods is its sponsorship of block improvement and marketing projects that enhance the appeal of a neighborhood. Over the years, Healthy Neighborhoods and Strong City have made possible dozens of block projects in North-Central Baltimore, including tree plantings, mosaic number signs, and house painting projects. Currently, two projects are near completion: the installation of a new neighborhood sign in Ednor Gardens, and exterior improvements to about a dozen houses in the 2700 block of Miles Avenue in Remington (see photos).
Healthy Neighborhoods began modestly almost 20 years ago, with funding from a group of local foundations aimed at improving conditions in a handful of neighborhoods. Over the years it has expanded to include about 50 neighborhoods and is now a force to be reckoned with on the community development scene.
“This has grown into a national model for dealing with working-class or middle neighborhoods,” says Mark Sissman, President of Healthy Neighborhoods. “We’ve had very few foreclosures with our loans, and we should be proud of that.”
Strong City values our partnership with Healthy Neighborhoods, an organization that shares our belief in the boundless strength and spirit of Baltimore, its people, and its neighborhoods!