The affordable housing units, named “Greenmount & Chase,” signified the beginning of a $160 million transformation of Johnston Square. Vacant houses and a vacant lot occupied the space where the new building now sits. (Courtesy photo)

By Demetrius Dillard
Special to the AFRO

Local political leaders joined ReBUILD Metro, Ingerman and the Johnston Square Partners to announce and celebrate the completion of an affordable housing development which is the start of an initiative estimated to bring major revitalization to an East Baltimore neighborhood.

The grand opening ceremony was right outside of the recently opened apartment building sitting at the intersection Greenmount Avenue and Chase Street.

City and state leaders, including Mayor Brandon Scott, City Council President Nick Mosby, Maryland state Sen. Cory McCray and Councilman Robert Stokes were in attendance in addition to ReBULD Metro president Sean Closkey, Rebuild Johnston Square executive director Regina Hammond and dozens of community members.

The affordable housing units, named “Greenmount & Chase,” was the culmination of a $16.6 million investment that also signified the beginning of a $160 million transformation of Johnston Square. Vacant houses and a vacant lot occupied the space where the new building now sits. “To see construction in a neighborhood where there was nothing happening is inspiring and encouraging, but also it’s offering an opportunity for a decent place at affordable rates,” said Hammond, also highlighting the recreational opportunities that are underway as part of the Transforming Johnston Square initiative.

Directly across the street from the 60-unit apartment building will be a community greenspace with a practice field for St. Frances Academy sports teams, Hammond said, adding that there will be a mixed-use development in what will be known as “Greenmount Park.” She hopes to secure programming to support the future project.

“Our goal, though, is to get programming in both the parks – Lacks Park and… Greenmount Park,” she added. “We need the teams, we need the programming, we need to give the kids activities to participate in while they’re there. That’s a future goal.”

Closkey, also the founder of ReBUILD Metro, said the organization is built on the principle of neighborhood stability, providing affordable housing to city residents without displacing them. The next phase of Transform Johnston Square will be an $80 million investment, Closkey pointed out.

“When the plan is completed, what you should be able to do – you should be able to walk or ride a bike from Penn Station through Johnston Square all the way to Johns Hopkins without seeing an abandoned house, and that’s really what the community always deserves,” he said. “The idea is to make sure that we’re building housing that fits the community’s needs, that fits homeowners needs, to create literally a sort of a buffet of housing.”

Johnston Square Partners include ReBUILD Metro, Baltimore Arts Realty Corp., St. Frances Academy, BUILD (Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development) and the Rebuild Johnston Square Neighborhood Organization. The Ingerman Management Company contributed largely to the project as well.

Greenmount & Chase accommodates 24 one-bedroom apartments, 27 two-bedroom apartments and nine three-bedroom apartments with a resident lounge, game room, playground, management and supportive services offices, storage facilities and a fitness room. Housing units are equipped with energy-efficient appliances, washing machines and dryers, double-paned windows, vinyl plank and tile flooring.

Scott, one of the speakers on the program, praised the Johnston Square Partners’ revitalization efforts. “This project is very significant in Johnston Square, and it’s significant because of the partnership with the community itself and the vision led by Ms. Regina Hammond,” Scott told the AFRO. “This is going to maintain affordable units in this neighborhood. Johnston Square, as I said before, is a model for how we can do this around the city.”

According to ReBUILD Metro, Maryland Secretary of Housing and Community Development Kenneth Holt announced that the State of Maryland will be providing another $2.5 million to ReBUILD Metro to support the renovation of abandoned homes in Johnston Square, creating new homeownership opportunities for families in need. Nearly three dozen abandoned homes on the blocks surrounding Greenmount & Chase will be targeted for the renovation project.

Holt, McCray, Mosby, Stokes, Ingerman development principal David Holden and the Weinberg Foundation’s Amy Kleine also delivered remarks.

To conclude the program, Johnston Square Partners stood alongside political figures for a ribbon cutting. Afterward, guests and attendees were invited into the Greenmount & Chase building for refreshments and a tour of the facility. “The idea is to build houses, is to build apartments, is to look for ways in which jobs are created, is to, as Regina said, make sure we’re investing in Henrietta Lacks Park, that we’re building the new Greenmount Park,” Closkey continued. “What we have to do as a group and a vision plan is ensure that we can give people access to those things regardless of price.”

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