The not-so-encouraging news out of Baltimore in March 2017 was that the city saw record-level population loss.

Nearing a 100-year low for residents living within its boundaries, the city reportedly saw a massive exodus of people. The Baltimore Sun article was met with sadness and confusion in my circles, as the city seemed to be thriving and on the tipping point of something great. How can we be losing people as a whole when things feel more exciting than ever?

What Happened?

According to the US Census Bureau, during the year that ended in July 2016, Baltimore City’s population fell by about 6,700 people. That’s more than 1% of the entire city’s population leaving in just a year. Even if that number isn’t entirely accurate, it is telling to me that I can feel like the city’s growing (in my bubble) when it’s actually losing residents across town. There’s something off.

Above: MonteVerde Rowe in Park Circle, Baltimore before redevelopment.

No matter the specific cause behind the city’s population loss (and it’s doubtful there’s just one), it is clear that there are individual components of city living that can be addressed to help retain people and keep the population growing. More affordable housing is one of the key components. In a city that once held about a million people, there is no shortage of homes physically available. So, why aren’t we bulging at the seams with affordable homes?

The Solution

Enter AHC Inc., a developer that takes a holistic approach to affordable housing. Founded in Arlington, VA in 1975, AHC is one of the largest developers of affordable housing in the Baltimore-Washington area. Its Baltimore branch opened in 2004 to address the need for more affordable housing in the city. While they are currently adding a veteran’s housing component to the huge Stadium Square project in South Baltimore, AHC has also been quietly converting an entire neighborhood block into something new.

MonteVerde Rowe is an assemblage of previously abandoned homes in Baltimore’s Park Circle neighborhood, adjacent to Druid Hill Park. Seen above, when they were purchased, the homes looked like any number of blocks on Baltimore’s west side – structurally and architecturally sound, but superficially crumbling and dilapidated. Though, with smart renovations and conscious redevelopment, AHC Inc. has taken the block and brought new life to it.

Above: MonteVerde Rowe in Park Circle, Baltimore after redevelopment.

Working with AHC, we identified a key audience member as we aim to sell these homes: the local renter currently living in West Baltimore – one who never thought they’d own a home, let alone own a newly renovated one right in their neighborhood. The blocks surrounding these homes have been neglected and otherwise overlooked. This block, however, brings a dozen homes to life with hardwood, exposed brick, and brand new appliances. Better yet, the homes are all priced around $165,000, attainable with a very low down payment and monthly mortgage. By enticing someone to buy not rent, we are not only providing an affordable lifestyle option, but we’re helping to retain someone who might have otherwise moved out of a rental unit on a whim.

Taking Ownership

The true power of this redevelopment effort was made clear in one of the first homes sold on the block. AHC described the owner as breaking down in tears as she signed, never having expected to own a home herself. It’s powerful to see someone take ownership of something, knowing that it will not only improve their lives, but the lives of those around them as they help build a community.

Working as an agency focused on revitalizing our urban centers through design, it can’t always be about the luxury apartments or waterfront development. As cities grow, affordable housing must remain on the table as a key component of that growth. Whether it’s through multifamily high-rises or single family homes like MonteVerde Rowe, we want to create brands and experiences that serve each city’s unique needs.

With Baltimore, this is especially important as we think of ways to attract and retain city residents of all walks of life. After all, a city is nothing without people.