I am excited to announce that the Covenant Fund of The Church of the Redeemer, established in 2017 to address the root causes of poverty in Baltimore, will invest $500,000 in the work of ReBuild Metro. Structured as a loan over ten years with a 2% return, the Covenant Fund will invest $200,000 this year, with the remainder paid out over the two following years. The total value of the Covenant Fund is now over $2 million, thanks to generous gifts of the parish and a thoughtful investment strategy. The Fund, created to support direct service to and programs for people who are under resourced, to foster relationships between individuals and groups, and to build community through partnerships, is managed by the Investment Committee, and disbursement decisions are made by the rector in consultation with the Vestry and members of the Budget and Finance Committee.
Rebuild Metro has been around for 15 years, quietly working in East Baltimore. In 2004 the team began acquiring scattered properties in the Oliver neighborhood. Collaborating with five local churches from whom they raised $1.2 million dollars, ReBuild also partnered with the city, who agreed to sell them the houses at low cost and turn them over to Rebuild, address by address, as the non-profit developer was ready to rehabilitate them. ReBuild, which is an outgrowth of BUILD (Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development), used economic data and community relationships to get things started, focusing on small areas where they knew the rehabs would produce the greatest effect. The development works inward from natural boundaries, like railroad tracks, a park, or a business, defining a discrete area and building from strength.
The model is to rehab existing houses, as well as to take smaller actions, such as fixing up a corner garden, clearing an overgrown lot, or turning some of the vacant properties into community green space. All this commitment is of a piece – and built around organizing – with residents taking charge of consulting neighbors, identifying needs, and mobilizing resources with support from local institutions and philanthropies.
As relationships deepened and the work proved successful in Oliver, ReBuild began talking with neighbors in Greenmount West, where blocks of rehabbed houses now combine with pocket parks, the OpenWorks community maker space, and the beautiful CityArts apartment buildings. ReBuild broke ground in Johnston Square in July.
Executive Director Sean Closkey compares typical “urban renewal” to the community-based work that Rebuild Metro embodies. “Most often a developer acquires several blocks of a depressed neighborhood, helps the few remaining residents move to a new location, razes the existing housing stock, and builds a high density structure. A block of twenty row homes might be replaced with sixty new residences.”
But the Baltimore housing stock, which was built for a city with a population of one million people, arguably doesn’t need more houses. Rather, neighborhoods like Oliver, Greenmount West, and Johnston Square are strengthened by being right-sized and having fewer houses, while adding more community-building features. “You can’t organize without residents,” Closkey adds, “and since our vision is based on knowing the people we serve, we help them stay in the neighborhood.” Importantly, over the 15 years of ReBuild’s work, no residents have been displaced.
I first spoke about ReBuild in June, and since then a number of Redeemer parishioners have become involved in this transformative work. Peter Bain has joined the board of ReBuild. Janet Harvey has agreed to help organize the campaign to raise funds for ReBuild’s third project, based in Johnston Square. Dixon Harvey, Jim Piper, and Molly Hathaway have generated considerable enthusiasm about the work, and last week Molly organized a group of interested community members to visit. This summer I invited two groups of parishioners to meet Sean Closkey and learn about ReBuild, and in October the Vestry and program staff toured the Johnston Square neighborhood and met with community leader Regina Hammonds.
There is a lot of exciting engagement ahead for us. I hope that the Covenant Fund’s investment will inspire individual, foundation, and corporate partners to get involved. Through this commitment, allies can help repair the breach made by race-based housing policy, assisting African American Baltimoreans create equity, some for the first time in generations. At the grass roots level, Regina Hammonds, Cristina Paglinauan, and I are planning projects to connect parishioners and community partners to her neighbors, including vacant lot upkeep, park clean-ups, and elementary school support. We will need teenagers, families, singles, and seniors to make it work.
On November 10 after the 10:00 service, we’ll welcome Regina Hammonds and other leaders involved in the project to talk about how it works and why they are so excited to be part of ReBuild and to partner with Redeemer. Regina said last week, “We would never have gotten to where we are now without interested people from outside our neighborhood.”
It will take all of us to transform Baltimore, she said. Amen.