On Wednesday, November 15, Baltimore City Mayor Brandon M. Scott, Assistant Secretary of Maryland’s Department of Housing and Community Development Gregory Hare, Maryland Senator Cory McCray, Baltimore Councilmember Robert Stokes, and over 100 other local officials, partners, and supporters joined ReBUILD Metro and the Johnston Square partners to celebrate the ongoing transformation of Johnston Square into a model for the rebirth of Baltimore’s redlined communities.

The event included a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the restoration of 4 formerly abandoned homes on the 400 block of East Biddle Street, the first homes in ReBUILD’s 25-unit Johnston Square Homeownership Works project. ReBUILD also assisted two legacy homeowners on this block in completing deferred home repairs, as well as removing the blight surrounding them. At the same time, ReBUILD formally launched construction of its Johnston Square Teacher Housing Project, which is converting 25 abandoned homes on the adjacent blocks of East Biddle Street into new affordable communal rental housing for local educators.

“For decades, the first thing anyone saw when they entered Johnston Square on East Biddle Street was blight and decay,” said Mayor Scott. “Now, they will instead see symbols of community regrowth and restoration that was driven by the community. Projects like these are a testament to what is possible in Baltimore when residents work together to make their communities stronger, and when they are empowered with the partnerships and resources they need to realize their bold dreams and visions for their neighborhoods.”

The 25-home Johnston Square Homeownership Works project is being funded with significant support from Maryland’s Department of Housing and Community Development (Maryland DHCD), which selected Johnston Square as one of two awardees across the state of Maryland for its $10 million Homeownership Works pilot program. The four homes on the 400 block of East Biddle Street also received support through the City of Baltimore’s Community Catalyst Grant program and from a broad group of individual and institutional impact investors from across Baltimore.

“Homeownership Works fills gaps in redevelopment projects and allows aging properties to be rehabilitated,” said Assistant Secretary Hare. “It also provides existing homeowners with critical funds for home repairs and façade improvements. But more importantly, it responds to two urgent priorities to correct the legacy of systemic racism: to close the gaps in household wealth in capital-depressed neighborhoods occupied by historically disadvantaged households, and to strengthen these neighborhoods so that they support the aspirations and wellbeing of their residents.”

“They could have picked anywhere in Maryland to launch the Homeownership Works program, but they chose Johnston Square,” added Senator McCray. “And they chose Johnston Square because this is a community of doers that has figured out a blueprint for rebuilding their neighborhood.”

The Johnston Square Teacher Housing project, a communal rental housing project that will be completed in late 2024, will convert 15 abandoned homes on the 400 and 600 blocks of East Biddle Street into affordable rental housing for 45 local educators, as well as removing 9 obsolete abandoned rowhomes on the intersecting block to create dedicated parking for the residents. The Teacher Housing project received funding from the Mayor’s Office of Recovery Programs through the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), as well as receiving support from Maryland DHCD’s Project CORE program, local foundations, and a major project-related investment.

“With the Homeownership Works project, we are transforming 25 of the most dangerous and distressed homes in the entire neighborhood into safe, high-quality for-sale homes that families will love and become neighbors in,” said Sean Closkey, President of ReBUILD Metro. “At the same time, we are taking another 15 abandoned homes and turning them into new homes for Baltimore City teachers. These homes will help us ensure that the people taking care of our children have places to live in the city that are safe, decent, welcoming, and affordable, and that they are part of our community.”

“What we have been able to do in Johnston Square is replicable,” said Regina Hammond, Executive Director of Rebuild Johnston Square Neighborhood Organization, “And we will work to replicate this model all over Baltimore City. Before long, when you walk into any part of Johnston Square, you will see people who love their community and who have helped build their community from the ground up. If there is not a home on one of our vacant sites, there will be a garden there.”