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Jewish Funds for Justice works with churches to save burned-out Baltimore neighborhood

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This block is like scores of others in the Oliver Neighborhood of Baltimore. The Jewish Funds for Justice and BUILD are working to knock these houses down and build housing for low income residents in an attempt to save the neighborhood.

The Baltimore Sun has a story about a fascinating urban renewal project in Baltimore. The Jewish Funds for Justice worked with a church group, BUILD, to construct affordable housing in Oliver, one of Baltimore’s worst neighborhoods.

If you’ve ever seen “The Wire,” you can get a pretty good sense of this neighborhood. I was down there during the winter to check out this story (which is in the hopper), and it is a total wasteland.

For anyone who has taken the train through Baltimore, Oliver is the neighborhood on your right just as you enter Penn Station there – the one that looks like Kosovo during the war, block after block after block of boarded up and burned out row houses. It is not the neighborhood from the HBO show, but it is almost as bad and almost as drug-ridden.

BUILD organized churches to raise $1.2 million to buy lots to build 75 new homes for low- to medium income families, and another 47 will be built, the Sun reports. Jewish Funds for Justice organized local Jews in Baltimore to match the $1.2 million.

The first homes were dedicated in a ceremony with Baltimore’s mayor, Sheila Dixon, and the Maryland’s governor, Martin O’Malley, July 28.

The block in the photo above, which I took this winter in the area where the homes are being built, is one of acres and acres of similar landscape. It will be replaced by new homes as shown in the photo in the Sun article.

This is not a straight philanthropic effort, I was told this winter. The houses will be sold and investors will take a small profit – albeit a much smaller profit than if this was a straight development deal.

Still this is a socially conscious project and in an area of Baltimore that is not Jewish at all. While other rebuild projects might seek to renovate areas abutting Jewish neighborhoods, Oliver Street is nowhere near Baltimore’s Jewish center.

But in a city where black-Jewish relations have been strained at best and non-existent at worst in recent years, this is a project that could go a long way to rehabilitate more than just a neighborhood.

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