Saheed Sneed grew up thinking Harlem Park was a scary place, but he became more familiar with it through family and friends who once lived there and realized it was “ripe” with people who believe in the area’s potential.
Sneed, who now lives in California, has an opportunity to live in Harlem Park in a rehabilitated rowhouse through an equitable development company, Parity. Their mission caters to some of his personal values: to create generational wealth responsibly and intentionally care for the place you live.
“I think it’s very important to be able to have pride in what you own and even where you live,” Sneed said.
Parity, a company founded by New York native Bree Jones, set out to redevelop 96 vacant rowhomes in the Harlem Park area and create affordable homeownership opportunities, which Jones heavily credits to grants. On Thursday, they’ll unveil two of the completed houses, which already have soon-to-be homeowners ready to move in. Parity plans to complete at least five more homes in the area by the end of 2023.
Sneed won’t be moving into the first round of finished rowhomes, but he’s in a cohort with other people who are slated to move into other Harlem Park homes redeveloped by Parity by the end of the year.
Jones said she got into equitable housing and redevelopment work after seeing how people were being priced out of neighborhoods in New York. It got her to thinking about how development can exist without displacement. She came to Baltimore because she wanted to be in a predominantly Black city and because she thinks it’s “a thriving, healthy city and has great access to jobs and relatively good transportation.”
“I realized that in order to prevent gentrification, you really have to get ahead of it,” Jones said. “You have to work in places where it hasn’t started. And you have to be able to preserve affordability from the onset and preserve culture from the onset.”
Jones said the last time she checked, there was a waitlist of at least 600 people wanting to go through the process to become a homeowner. Each potential buyer must meet pre-qualifying criteria, including a credit score high enough to qualify for a mortgage loan and at least $5,000 in their bank accounts. Applicants are selected on a first-come, first-served basis.
Parity creates cohorts of peers who are guided through a homebuying curriculum, including sessions about market readiness, terms of a mortgage, and what escrow and earnest deposits are.
Through the cohort, Sneed was able to meet his future neighbor, Jamie Pope. Pope said growing up in Park Heights, she experienced a community where everyone knew each other. She wants her young daughter to be able to experience that, too. Parity, she added, integrates future homeowners in the community before they officially move in, including a “hood hike” where they learn about the history and architecture in the area.
“The homes are so beautiful even though a lot are vacant or have gone through struggle. They’re still beautiful,” Pope said. In Baltimore, there are at least 14,000 properties with vacant building notices on them, according to data collected by the Baltimore City Department of Housing and Community Development.
Jones said there’s more that can be done to make the process of acquiring and rehabilitating homes easier. There needs to be more control over vacant properties, more funding to do the work on them, and the permit system needs to be improved, she said.
Jones also worked with officials on legislation that creates a state fund for nonprofits to close the appraisal gap — when the construction and rehabilitation of a property exceeds the sales price — in historically redlined areas. The bill was approved by Gov. Wes Moore earlier this year.
In addition to “blood, sweat and tears,” Jones said Parity’s work is funded by grants and partnerships, including support from JP Morgan, Lowe’s and Bank of America. Jones was also an OSI Community Fellow in 2020. This year, Parity is taking out its first construction loan with Baltimore Community Lending, which Jones said will allow them to take on more home renovations at a time. Parity, she added, has an ambitious goal to eventually complete 200 homes in Baltimore in the next few years.
Harlem Park, she hopes, is a “calling card for other folks who want to participate in the equitable revival of a neighborhood.” Sandtown-Winchester, Midtown-Edmondson, and Carrolton Ridge are other areas that come to mind for redevelopment, Jones said.
Ako Boyd, a homeowner moving into one of the homes unveiled Thursday, sees the redevelopment as a homecoming for Black residents. Jones said the next cohort of homebuyers are mostly Black. A Baltimore Banner report found that Black residents are moving out of the city and heading to the suburbs because of a lack of job opportunities and investments in majority-Black neighborhoods.
Nonetheless, Boyd is looking forward to building and being a part of a close knit community.
“I think an important part about this whole process is that we get to keep a sense of community and that’s what’s been lost. We should be able to go to our neighbor’s house and ask for sugar like our parents back in the day,” Boyd said.