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I’m starting to work on a new project, and need help with fundraising.

This project is a joint effort between Housing Policy Watch and the Southwest Baltimore Charter School, an elementary-middle school located in the Pigtown neighborhood of Baltimore, and the neighborhood’s only school for students in grades six through eight. Two sixth grade teachers and the school administration have committed to this project, for the 2016-2017 school year.

School Neighborhood Demographics

Pigtown is a community located in Southwest Baltimore that has seen a large increase in the number of vacant homes and low-end rental homes, along with a decrease in owner-occupied homes.

  • 36% of neighborhood households earn less than $25,000 a year
  • 49% of residents are African-American
  • 56% of all households are female-head single parent households, with children under the age of 18
  • 30% of all children in the neighborhood live below the poverty line
  • Approximately 43% of people of working age (16-64) are unemployed.
(Source: US Census Bureau)

The Project

For the school year 2016-2017, fifty sixth grade students will be working alongside their teachers and Carol Ott, Director of Housing Policy Watch, to document vacant properties in their respective neighborhoods, and research property ownership and social/economic conditions that lead to vacancy. Students will also learn how to use the data collected by creating an advocacy campaign around vacancy, jobs, transportation, and other conditions present in their respective neighborhoods. The project will culminate in a presentation in front of the Baltimore City Council, where the students will present their recommendations and desired outcomes.

Each student will be given forms and the ability to photograph the properties, and safely assess each property’s condition, i.e., broken windows, unsecured front door, collapsed roof. The students will also have the opportunity to add notes, and along with their adult volunteer chaperone, will give each property a blight scale rating, depending on the conditions present.

Please note, the children will be doing this exercise from the sidewalk, and their adult volunteers will not allow or encourage them to enter the homes or walk around to the rear of any of the properties. The exercise will only take place during daylight hours and under the strict supervision of teachers, parents, or other vetted adult volunteers. Prior to starting the data collection, Baltimore Housing will provide a list of properties or blocks that are either:

  • Slated for demolition, or
  • Deemed to be structurally or otherwise unsound.

Any properties on the “Unsound” list will not be assessed in this exercise, as the children’s safety is of the utmost importance.

After the data collection period has ended, the students will start to research ownership of the properties, any interesting historical or human-interest facts and stories that are tied to each property, and look at social/economic conditions that may have led to the abandonment of the properties as a group, by neighborhood.

Once the research phase of the project has ended, the students will then begin to develop an advocacy campaign around vacancy and housing, and formulate solutions for each neighborhood, taking into consideration each neighborhood’s unique location and market conditions.

The aggregate data, along with the students’ solutions will be presented to the Baltimore City Council before the end of the school year, no later than June of 2017.

Why This Project is Important

In May of 2016, I spoke to both sixth grade classes about lead paint and vacancy, and how the students could take ownership of their communities by becoming more involved in sharing their thoughts about the world around them. I found the students to be incredibly well-informed about the topic at hand (lead paint and its effects on children), and very engaging on a level beyond their years.

This project would address two important issues:

  • Students need a hands-on approach to real-world job skills, and at a young age. Data collection, data analysis, and research are important tools the kids will use throughout their academic careers, and will better prepare them for the rigors of high school, college, and employment.
  • Training students how to be their own best advocates will also translate to other parts of their lives. The same skills used during this exercise can apply to negotiating with parents, teachers, and friends. Also, teaching them how to advocate in a strategic way will develop critical thinking skills, communication skills, and an openness to listening, and learning new methods of dealing with seemingly overwhelming problems.

Additional Information

This project is a pilot, based on the successful outcomes of the Baltimore Slumlord Watch project. As Project Lead, I will be able to use my eight years of experience working on the issue of blight and vacancy, in order to assist the students with their research. If successful, the project will move to another school for the following year.

Jason Hessler, Deputy Commissioner for Baltimore Housing’s Legal Division has agreed to participate in the project, by talking to the students about vacancy and the receivership process. Michael Braverman, Deputy Commissioner for Baltimore Housing’s Code Enforcement Division has expressed an interest in receiving the data collected by the students, in the hopes that we’re able to identify additional vacants currently not known to Housing. Also, Councilman Bill Henry has agreed to assist with the project.

Two local foundations were approached with regard to fundraising, both declined. We really need your help with this, please donate today!

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