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A New Canvas for Baltimore: Humanim Takes Innovative Approach to Rebuilding Baltimore City

With help from Maryland’s Project C.O.R.E., a Baltimore City-based nonprofit is expanding their unique approach to blight removal and job creation. Working along McKean Avenue in the city’s Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood, Details, a part of the nonprofit Humanim, is using Project C.O.R.E. funds for the deconstruction of dilapidated rowhouses. Deconstruction differs from demolition in that homes are taken apart by hand, piece by piece. In addition, each worksite entails the employment of 10 or more workers, many more than the usual demolition site.

The homes on McKean are part of a projected 300 buildings citywide that will be deconstructed using Project C.O.R.E. funding over the next year. The homes chosen for deconstruction were selected by Baltimore City’s Department of Housing and Community Development in consultation with the community and the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development.

Reclaimed materials from homes deconstructed through Details Deconstruction are sold to the public at the Brick + Board store on N. Howard Street in Baltimore City.

Last year, Details finished deconstructing the selected homes along the eastern side of the 1500 block of McKean Avenue. This left open space that was then redesigned by the community as a park that opened in April 2017. Currently the Details team is working on the deconstruction of 18 homes on the western side of the same street. According to Details director Jeff Carroll said,  this work is expected to take about five weeks to finish. When completed, more green space will be available, and the community is considering how to activate the space..

Deconstructing the homes has some unique advantages, Carroll said. Rather than destroying the brick and wood in the homes through demolition, the usable materials are saved and reclaimed from the sites. They are then sorted offsite and resold across the country and even internationally. Of the homes being worked on currently, Carroll said the materials in more than half were in good shape. They expect to reclaim between 8,000 to 9,000 feet of lumber from this project, along with more than 56,000 bricks.

Vacant houses awaiting deconstruction occupy the western side of the 1500 block of McKean Avenue.

Job creation is also a vital part of their work; in fact, Carroll described it as “the primary goal.” Between 75-80 percent of their employees have spent time in prison and are now re-entering their communities and the workforce. Often, for people with a prison record, obtaining employment seems like an impossible obstacle. “These individuals need that first job, but it’s difficult for them,” Carroll said. “For many, this is their first, and now they’re excelling.”

Carroll described Humanim’s partnership with the department as a “game-changer.” “This particular venture…is really transformative in the opportunity to create a highway for individuals who have been released back into the workforce,” Carroll said. “None of it is doable without the partnerships. DHCD sees the value of the social impact, and those funds have been the catalyst for expanding this effort . …It goes beyond just taking down buildings.”

Lifelong Baltimorean Damon Toogood is now a foreman with Details,  overseeing projects in the Park Heights area of northwest Baltimore. He began working with Details not long after being released from prison four years ago, and, motivated by the thought of his children and family, he worked hard and now owns his own home and is proud of the direction his life has taken.

“I’m now able to take care of my own house without having to call someone,” Toogood said. “I came from a place where I wasn’t happy at all, and Details has helped me a lot. My mom doesn’t worry about me anymore. I was selling drugs, getting locked up….getting the same results from doing the same things.”

Toogood added that he was grateful to Humanim and Details for “giving [him] a chance when no one else would.”

“It was rough. At first, I didn’t like it,” Toogood said. “But I knew it would keep me off the streets. If I could get everyone who’s on the streets right now selling drugs a job, I would. I wish I’d had this a long time ago.”

“A New Canvas for Baltimore” is a regular series covering Project C.O.R.E. (Creating Opportunities for Renewal and Enterprise). Project C.O.R.E. will clear the way for new green space, new affordable and mixed use housing, and new opportunities for small business owners in Baltimore City. The initiative will generate jobs, strengthen the partnership between the City of Baltimore and the State of Maryland and lead to safer, healthier and more attractive communities. For more information on Project C.O.R.E., visit http://dhcd.maryland.gov/ProjectCORE/