Residents of West Baltimore’s Poppleton neighborhood gave city officials a tour of the overgrown, trash-strewn lots and the mounds of rubble that have come to define their historically Black neighborhood after more than a decade of supposed “revitalization” from well-connected, out-of-town developer La Cité.

The residents who organized the tour are fighting the city’s use of eminent domain to remove them from the homes they have lived in for decades.

“I want everyone in Baltimore to see what eminent domain is like,” said Sonia Eaddy, a third-generation Poppleton resident who has owned her home since 1992.

The house has been owned by Black families as far back as the late 1920s—a particularly impressive feat considering Baltimore City’s racist lending practices. Painted on the side of Eaddy’s 321 North Carrollton Ave. home is a 20-foot mural reading: “SAVE OUR BLOCK. Black Neighborhoods Matter. Losing my home is like a death to me. Eminent Domain law is violent.”

The message painted on the side of Eaddy’s home. Photo by Brandon Soderberg

The neighborhood’s development has, over the past 15 years, mostly yielded displacement and demolition, and little new housing, except for two sleek buildings dubbed Center/West.

The Saturday, Dec. 11, tour for Deputy Mayor Ted Carter and Housing Commissioner Alice Kennedy, then, was a way to show the litany of injustices Eaddy’s community has endured in recent years. 

Carter, while on the tour, stressed to Eaddy and the dozen or so other current and former residents that he hoped it would move towards a “reset” for the community, La Cité, and the city itself, which provided nearly $60 million in tax increment financing for the development in 2015.

Sonia Eaddy speaks to Deputy Mayor Ted Carter. Photo by Jaisal Noor

“We are here today to hear your concerns, and see the neighborhood from your eyes,” Carter said. “I’m working with the mayor and trying to come up with a win-win scenario that addresses everyone’s concerns.” 

“We were sold out,” Eaddy said. “I love my house.”

With Eaddy guiding the tour, residents detailed the complex and maddening history of their community to Carter, who, eight months in, is fairly new to the job. Carter seemed woefully uninformed, which resulted in residents explaining their situation over and over again to a city official who they’d been asking to take this tour since September.

The residents pointed to the historic houses on Sarah Ann Street, which have been listed to be preserved, rehabilitated, and offered for homeownership as part of the development deal. At one point, Carter said the homes were in “the wrong place” and would have to be moved. It is pretty much impossible for these brick alley homes built in 1870 to be picked up and taken elsewhere.

In 2000, local media reported on residents of Sarah Ann Street’s efforts to reclaim their block, pushing out people who sell drugs and creating a playground for local children. In 2006, La Cité acquired 13.8 acres of land from the city and the long-delayed development has been costly for those who tried to stay in the neighborhood.

There are fewer lights on the street now, which is dangerous. Now that developers control the land, the grass isn’t cut as often, which is also dangerous. Nearby, a balloon marked the location someone had recently been murdered. A plot of land previously used by residents for neighborhood gatherings is covered in large piles of rubble from demolished buildings.

Eaddy and others also stressed that the development has made their community less safe. There are fewer lights on the street now, which is dangerous. Now that developers control the land, the grass isn’t cut as often, which is also dangerous. Nearby, a balloon marked the location someone had recently been murdered. A plot of land previously used by residents for neighborhood gatherings is covered in large piles of rubble from demolished buildings.

“We used to have family reunions here,” Eaddy said. “This lot right here is what we’ve been dealing with. It’s a real embarrassment when you invite people over to your home or you live next door.” 

The city officials documented the many locations that needed cleanup by city workers. 

Eaddy walked adjacent to Interstate 170, Baltimore’s so-called “Highway to Nowhere,” a nearly 1.5 mile stretch of road built in the 1970s that cut through the heart of Black Baltimore, displacing 1,500 residents before the project was halted and never completed. Blocks of broken concrete and other construction debris remain in the abandoned lots that were once people’s yards—some of the very people on the tour trying to get the city to do something for them.

Angela Banks was displaced in 2018 after living in Poppleton for 30 years. She was displaced from the home where she was raised when her landlord sold it to the city. She did not receive compensation or relocation assistance, and since then she has struggled to secure affordable housing.

“You’re always living day by day, trying to hope and pray that you can always just have a stable home,” she told the gathered crowd. 

Meanwhile, Banks noted, her former home has remained standing and vacant.

It’s not that longtime residents are against development, Eaddy told Carter and Kennedy during the walk. 

“What we want is fair development here, with communities,” she said. 

The community’s demands are not new. In 2016, 10 residents worked for two years with the city planner to submit what they dubbed “The Poppleton Plan,” their alternative vision for the neighborhood that preserved its architectural character and prioritized the needs of the community. The plan included an expanded public park, a job training center for local residents, space for locally-owned small businesses, a grocery store, an early childhood learning center, the preservation of historic homes, and the creation of townhomes that would be affordable for local residents. 

Tisha Guthrie describes what it is really like to live in Center/West. Photo by Jaisal Noor

When the tour approached the recently erected luxury Center/West Apartments, residents said La Cité had not developed the property with long-term residents in mind. 20% affordable housing is required in the new buildings. Center/West’s two-bedroom apartments are advertised with rent starting at $1,925 a month. Instead of investing in green space for public use, the green space for the Center/West apartments is located on the roof. Its lobby has the look of a fancy dorm, with quirky light fixtures and a flat-screen playing music videos.

As the video for Supertramp’s “It’s Raining Again” played, Tisha Guthrie, who uses the Housing Choice Voucher program, described what she called La Cité’s “facade of being invested in the community.” 

“Thus far what I have experienced is that the property on its face is pretty,” Guthrie told Battleground Baltimore. “But it’s very haphazardly constructed. The day I moved in, I noticed that cabinets were falling apart. I noticed that you could hear it leaking.”

Guthrie, who also serves as a Commissioner for the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, has lived in Center/West since May. She is legally blind and uses a guiding cane, and noted the lack of automatic doors creates accessibility challenges for those with limited mobility. Guthrie also cited the high cost of garage parking. 

“I don’t know many people who are on limited incomes or who qualify as low-income who can afford to pay an extra $175 a month for parking,” she said.

In front of Center/West, residents called Carter and Kennedy’s attention to the lack of trees. There used to be more of them. 

Officials said that in the new year they would try to facilitate a meeting between developer Dan Bythewood of La Cité and concerned residents. But residents have heard it all before from these developers. They want the city to intervene. Eaddy is asking the city to remove her home from the Land Disposition and Development Agreement (LDDA)—a request the city has, in the past, honored for other properties.

“We requested this walkthrough, not them,” Eaddy reminded the residents as they headed for the site of a community garden that began back in the ’90s, but was stopped when the “development” began again earlier this year.

The garden is now a barren field of yellowed grass, full of trash.

Jaisal Noor

Reporter

Jaisal is a host, producer, and reporter for TRNN. With his expertise in education policy and systemic inequity, he focuses on Baltimore, Maryland. He mainly grew up in the Baltimore area and studied modern history at the University of Maryland, College Park. Before joining TRNN, he contributed print, radio, and TV reports to Free Speech Radio NewsDemocracy Now! and The Indypendent.

Jaisal's mother has taught in the Baltimore City Public School system for the past 25 years.

 
jaisal@therealnews.com
 
@jaisalnoor

Brandon Soderberg

Brandon Soderberg is a Baltimore-based writer reporting on guns, drugs, and police corruption. He is the coauthor of I Got a Monster: The Rise and Fall of America’s Most Corrupt Police Squad. Formerly, he was the editor-in-chief of the Baltimore City Paper. His work has appeared in The Intercept, VICE, The Appeal, and many other publications. Follow him on Twitter @notrivia.