BCF’s place-based investing in Northwest Baltimore is rooted in an understanding and respect for the area’s history and culture. Liberty Heights Avenue played a significant role in the journey of many upwardly mobile Baltimore families throughout the 20th century. But direct investment in this part of the city began to dry up once the racial demographics of the communities changed. These neighborhoods—while becoming and remaining the bedrock of the Black middle class in Baltimore—became a less certain avenue for upward economic mobility. Housing values stagnated. Amenities began to disappear. The Black middle class that has formed the foundation of these communities for decades also makes up the largest group of people abandoning the city, contributing to its population loss.
Fortunately, the Liberty Heights Avenue corridor has several strong elementary schools on which to capitalize and leverage neighborhood investments. BCF is digging deep in these selected school communities—Calvin M. Rodwell Elementary/Middle in Howard Park and Liberty Elementary School in Forest Park—listening to residents’ vision and equipping community-based organizations with the resources they need to build on neighborhood assets, attract further investment, and develop social capital.
A great example is the Wayland Baptist Church Community Development Corporation, now known as WBC CDC. The group initially provided food and social activities for seniors in Forest Park and surrounding neighborhoods, including Ashburton, Garwyn Oaks, Gwynn Oak, Howard Park, and West Arlington. In 2010, the group took a great leap forward, partnering with Bon Secours and Enterprise Homes to build Wayland Village, a 90-unit complex for low-to-moderate income seniors and disabled individuals. Since then, it has launched the Forest Park Alliance, gathering representatives from six nearby neighborhood associations to advocate for improved public services and ensure residents have a voice in community development efforts. Amazingly, all of this work was done by volunteers with no paid staff.
In 2019, BCF made a grant of $150,000 to the group to hire its first full-time executive director and staff the Forest Park Alliance. Beyond grantmaking, BCF facilitated a connection between Baltimore Business Lending—a BCF impact investment recipient—and the Forest Park Alliance to assist local entrepreneurs via their small business loan program. “We are being really diligent about the role a CDC can play in restoring this community because focusing on schools without neighborhoods—or vice versa—is a non-starter,” says Tracy Evans, WBC CDC’s new executive director. “You have to do both and leverage all of the opportunities to disrupt the pockets of distress, be better stewards of the assets, keep current residents, and attract new ones to create the demand for a dynamic business ecosystem—where businesses are providing the goods and services that residents want and need.”
Under Tracy’s leadership and working hand-in-hand with longtime leaders like Board President Laurence Campbell, WBC CDC has launched a host of initiatives to improve quality of life and attract new residents and businesses. These include buying and renovating homes, partnering with greening organizations on beautification projects, aligning with city agencies to address code violations and illegal dumping, and supporting local schools. It has also launched a master planning process, which, Tracy says, has validated what makes a community vibrant. “Residents want safe places to play and gather, housing types that meet their needs, and rich amenities like small businesses that are embedded in the community, not solely transactional. All of that once existed; we just need to recapture the energy.”