Hopkins' Work With Its Neighbors Is Empowering By Mike Field Calling it a case of "perfect timing," officials at the Medical Institutions predict profound and lasting improvements in the neighborhoods surrounding the East Baltimore medical campus thanks to a $100 million federal empowerment zone grant announced Dec. 21. "We have been working with the community diligently for more than five years now on plans to improve housing, safety, health, the environment and jobs," said Dean Michael Johns of the School of Medicine. "We began this process before President Clinton was elected, long before there were plans to make empowerment zone grants. The empowerment zone award is a fabulous shot in the arm. Now that we have real dollars in hand the planning process can really be accelerated." The two-part grant gives $50 million to the city of Baltimore now, with a promise of another $50 million in October. The money is expected to trigger an additional $800 million in commitments from city, state and private foundations, all aimed at three of the city's most impoverished areas: Fairfield in the south of the city, the Sandtown/Pigtown/Winchester neighborhoods to the west and the East Monument neighborhoods surrounding the medical campus to the east. Although the three geographic areas in the city's new empowerment zone contain just 72,362 people--less than 10 percent of Baltimore's population--they account for 21 percent of the murders and 23 percent of the drug arrests in the city. Studies indicate that 43 percent of the 47,000 residents in the East Monument area live below the poverty level with nearly half of those between the ages of 16 and 64 out of work. "For two years now the Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition, Inc. has been developing plans to make the neighborhoods around the medical campus an economically viable place to live and work," said Jo Martin, associate director of public affairs at the Medical Institutions. Martin co-chaired the grassroots organization's communications committee with neighborhood resident Grace Y. Jones for more than a year. "All during that planning process we were talking about empowerment, about increasing economic opportunities here and how wonderful that would be if only we had the money. Now that it's happened it's very exciting." The Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition, Inc. is one of several grassroots coalitions slated to become major players in the empowerment zone renewal efforts. "We work together on strategies to increase economic opportunities in the community," said Martin of the group, which includes residents, area businesses, employers and employees, as well as community service organizations. "Our aim is to improve the health, safety and viability of the East Baltimore communities." Colene Daniel, vice president for Johns Hopkins Hospital Corporate Services, and Richard Grossi, senior associate dean for finance and administration at the School of Medicine, are both members of the Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition's board of directors. In the coming months, the city will embark upon a number of empowerment zone initiatives, including the planned funding of a "one-stop" community bank with $20 million capital for business loans, the creation of eight "village centers" to coordinate renewal activities on a neighborhood basis, the creation of a $20 million mortgage pool to help residents buy or renovate homes and the establishment of a training fund to provide workers with stipends of up to $400 a week for six weeks while receiving on-the-job training. Baltimore was one of only six cities to receive a $100 million grant. A total of 78 cities competed for the awards. Key to the city's success seems to have been its ability to tie its renewal plans to established city employment generators including tourism and medical technology.
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