The first half of the first phase of construction of the new O’Donnell Heights is about half done, according to Andrew Vincent, director of AHC Greater Baltimore.
This push includes 76 townhouse-style housing units, 38 of which are “deeply subsidized,” and 38 of which fall under the category “affordable housing.”
The deeply subsidized units are reserved for tenants who earn less than 30 percent of the state annual median income. The affordable units are for tenants earning from 30 percent to 50 percent of the median; rent would be set to the affordable rate, and tenants would pay rent and utilities.
The rental rates of the affordable units, Vincent said, are in line with the market rates of the surrounding neighborhood, though he noted that the O’Donnell Heights rents would not increase should the surrounding market take off.
With construction of the 76 units about halfway complete, Vincent said that he expects tenants to begin moving in in March of next year.
“They’re row houses and townhouses,” he said. “We’ll finish up one set, and people will move in. People will be able to move into the first units before the last units are completed.”
This first part of the first phase of construction covers 5.5 acres in the northeast corner of the 62-acre site, which is between Boston and O’Donnell streets, just east of Boston Street’s I-95 interchange.
The original O’Donnell Heights, built in 1942, had about 900 housing units. The master plan for the new development, Vincent said, calls for 925 units, but that number is still in flux.
Three hundred units of the old public housing project remain on the site. Vincent said that at some point during the construction, they will have to be demolished, and the residents will be relocated to temporary housing before moving into new housing units in O’Donnell Heights.
The old Heights was progressively razed from 2004-2007. The tenants could be anywhere.
“There is a whole process—we’re trying to reach out to everybody,” said Vincent. “Everybody who is in good standing has the opportunity to return. Not everybody is expected to return.”
The old Heights was strictly public housing.
“We’re looking to make it a mixed-income, mixed tenure development,” Vincent said of the new development, explaining that in addition to deeply-subsidized and affordable housing, the development would also include homes for sale.
But not yet.
“Straight, market-rate housing is the goal we’re working toward, but it’s hard to get right out of the gate with that,” he said. “We need to make the place in terms of development.”
Vincent said that a mixed-income community can prevent “a lot of issues of the concentration of poverty” seen in the old public-housing model.
There is not currently a fixed ratio of subsidized vs. affordable vs. for-sale housing planned for O’Donnell Heights. The Housing Authority of Baltimore City owns the land, and has entered into a long-term lease agreement with AHC and the Michael’s Organization, who are jointly financing and developing the project, and will own the development itself. Property management, Vincent said, will be provided by Interstate Realty Management, an affiliate of the Michaels Organization.
Not all in the surrounding community are happy with the progression of the project. Michael Bradshaw, who sits on a steering committee for O’Donnell Heights, made up of both surrounding community members and O’Donnell Heights tenants, lives very close to the project.
“They have reneged on so many promises,” he said.
Bradshaw said that he was particularly upset about the lack of a community center for the project thus far.
“We haven’t gotten a commitment to build that yet,” he said.
Bradshaw has lived in the neighborhood since 1970.
“What bothers me is that I don’t want to have what we had there last time,” he said, adding that drug dealing and other crime problems were very common in the old O’Donnell Heights. “There were four drug dealers on my street—one on each corner,” he said. “I don’t want to see that again.”
Bradshaw said that he is one of the few people that still attends steering committee meetings.
“We started with meetings once a month, then it was once every two months,” he said.
A member of the O’Donnell Heights tenant council could not be reached for comment.
The steering committee meets this Thursday, Sept. 12.
by Erik Zygmont