Current and Future Challenges of SMEAC

Current and Future Challenges of SMEAC

The general results of SMEAC’s organizing efforts have been to reach residents who have been historically disenfranchised and marginalized from decision-making concerning the changes in their community.  Organizing residents to step out of this voiceless role to engage in a community-driven process has assured
the voice of impacted residents in major decision-making affecting policy change. It has informed residents of their rights, increased resident involvement in their neighborhood and built stronger networks, and increased the perception that residents are primary stakeholders.  This has been the struggle and accomplishments of the fi rst 5 years, addressing only the first phase (30 acres encompassing approximately 900 houses) of the targeted 90 acres (20 square blocks).  Though the non-community stakeholders have celebrated the ‘ground-breaking’ of this phase and applauded its successful completion, residents continue to wait to see them deliver on promises.  At the completion of this fi rst phase, approximately 400 households have been relocated, 25% to neighborhoods similar or with worst indicators than Middle East Baltimore.  (According to the federal urban renewal legislation using eminent domain, the involuntary aking of land for development can occur only with an assurance that those affected will be afforded a better quality of life.)  
   In the fi rst phase of this redevelopment project, the majority of children were living in rental households.  Relocation assistance provides supplemental benefi t to afford an increased rent,which is then discontinued after 5-6 years.  These are benefits that assist only rent and do not provide employment opportunities to increase income.  At the end of this period when these benefi ts are withdrawn, these families may be forced to move back into more deteriorated neighborhoods than Middle East.
This places multiple generations at risk of moving deeper into poverty.  SMEAC has advocated for and continues to await a plan to assess and assure that this does not occur.  
   Residents demanded, and current legislation dictated, that 1/3 of the houses being built in the redevelopment area must be low income (0-50% of the area median income (AMI)).  However, the developers (Forest City), EBDI, the city government and
the private donors (Annie E. Casey Foundation, Johns Hopkins Institutions and others sitting on the EBDI board) assisting
this project have approved the initial construction of low-income units to be affordable to those with incomes at 30-50% of the AMI.  This excludes affordability and the likelihood of returning for the residents of this area, whose income fall between 0-30% of the AMI.  There remains much unfi nished business pertaining to Phase 1 of the redevelopment project and an increasing pattern of no accountability of verbal or documented agreement or transparency of decision making processes.  We continue to struggle to assure equity in this first phase and challenge the non-community stakeholders on their defi nitions of ‘success’.
   SMEAC now faces the challenge of the next two phases of this massive redevelopment project.  EBDI announced that due to insuffi cient funding (due to poor planning, an unstable housing market) the previous plans for demolition and redevelopment of the remaining 60 acres would be different than the process for the fi rst phase.  Residents in these later phases remain unaware of how this will affect them.  Will they eventually be relocated within the next 10 years or will their homes remain under the weight of eminent domain, at risk of the whim of EBDI and future redevelopment plans?  Will current un-occupied houses be rehabbed or demolished? Will the planning of these laterphases include organized resident voices?  
The unknown of what will happen in the next year, ten or twenty years leaves many residents feeling they have no control over their lives.  SMEAC’s organizing strategy remains the same but our goals have changed to meet this new twist in the Middle East Baltimore Redevelopment plan.  Information gathered from our door-knocking in the subsequent phases of the Redevelopment Project shows that residents feel they should be given the option to move or stay with the same benefi t afforded residentsin the first phase.  If they stay, they feel that grants should be provided for them to improve their homes, competitive with the new houses being built adjacent to them.  Residents also feel that they should be part of the decision-making process as to exactly what will happen in their neighborhood and the design of their neighborhood.  SMEAC continues to organize residents to voice their needs to EBDI and the other non-resident stakeholders to include resident participation in their planning of the later phases.  We spent the fi rst 5 years chasing a train that left
the station without the impacted residents. The redevelopment plan developed behind closed doors, without transparency to impacted residents, and imposed by EBDI on the backs of residents. We now have the opportunity to proactively impact the  planning and policy for these later phases of this redevelopment project.  However, we are also convinced that to a large extent, the degree of equity obtained in the fi rst phase will set the standard for intentions and outcomes in the subsequent phases.  
   Maintaining community organizing as our basis, with resident participation driving the entire process, SMEAC continues to struggle for systemic change in the way urban redevelopment occurs.   These include:
•  the ways in which low-income, African-American community residents are viewed (i.e. as dysfunctional, walking pathologies who have destroyed the old community and must be removed as part of community revitalization efforts);
• the public narrative regarding community redevelopment and revitalization (i.e. that the “old” community has been destroyed primarily as a result of community pathology and neglect as opposed to the neglect and disinvestment by government and businesses in low-income, inner city areas);
•   the  “accepted norm” regarding the participation of and control by, those most directly impacted by  revitalization efforts in all
decisions affecting their and their families’ futures (i.e. instead of those directly impacted being acted upon by decision-makers with power, they will be equal participants in redevelopment decisions affecting their communities);
• the lack of systematic tracking of whether/how, substantial and long-term direct and indirect benefi t is afforded to affected residents impacted by urban redevelopment and eminent domain practices  (i.e. economic/asset building, social, health, education, subsequent generations, other);
•  the lack of focus of ‘benefi t to impacted community’ as a key determinant in planning/implementing/evaluating redevelop-
ment projects