CHAI: Making A Stand in Upper Park Heights Part 3

Posted on January 23rd, 2017 by

Article by Simone Ellin. Originally published in Generations 2009-2010: 50th Anniversary Double Issue: The Search for Social Justice.

Part III: Attention to Detail

Missed parts 1 & 2? Start here.

Baltimore Delegate Sandy Rosenberg served on the CHAI board when it was dedicated to senior housing. When The Associated began studying models of community stabilization, Rosenberg was active with the Baltimore Jewish Council, an Associated agency deeply involved with the project. “Associated leaders made a site visit to Cleveland to see what the Jewish Federation there was doing about community stabilization since they already had a program underway there. That was really when CHAI as it is known today began,” Rosenberg explains. “The Associated said, ‘We’re going to invest in this neighborhood.’ That led to the JCC’s restoration, for instance. Without CHAI, Har Sinai (a Reform synagogue then in the neighborhood) wouldn’t have sold to Rambam (an Orthodox day school). Before CHAI, synagogues that moved out of their buildings sold to churches.”

Senior Home Repair Day. Photo courtesy of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

Senior Home Repair Day. Photo courtesy of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

Rosenberg attributes some of CHAI’s success to its attention to detail. “Little things can be both pluses and minuses to neighborhoods, and making those minor changes leads to bigger things, and out of that, enthusiasm grows.” Under CHAI’s auspices, the presidents of the area’s five neighborhood associations (the Northwest Communities Presidents Forum) met on a regular basis, Rosenberg says. “That got people working together and looking out for their common interests. As an elected official, these meetings have helped me–they have given me an opportunity to meet with all of these presidents.”

Rosenberg cites new state legislation around slot machines as one recent benefit. “Because of the participation of NW Presidents, a percentage of the money from Pimlico’s slot machines will be distributed to the five neighborhoods around Pimlico. We brought this idea to the presidents and they helped to refine it. Earnings from slots over the next fifteen years are expected to be $45 million. The neighborhoods around the racetrack will receive some of those proceeds for community development.” In fact, in an effort to demonstrate their commitment to neighborhood residents and stakeholders, Rosenberg and his colleagues convinced the state to provide $75,000 up front. This sum was matched by the Baltimore City School System and the $150,000 was used to renovate the running track at Northwest High School.

Senior Home Repair Day. Photo courtesy of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore

Senior Home Repair Day. Photo courtesy of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore

Rosenberg believes that The Associated’s decision to invest in Upper Park Heights is important not only to the Jewish community but also for Baltimore and the entire Baltimore metropolitan area. “The city and the suburbs have a mutually dependent relationship,” he says. “People may think they are separate but suburbs are only as strong as the urban centers they surround.”

CHAI has also created collaborative relationships with Baltimore City, neighborhood schools, community task forces, the business community, and especially, the African American community. Sandy Johnson, an African American woman who has lived in Fallstaff for thirty-two years, first became aware of CHAI around ten years ago through her involvement with the Fallstaff Improvement Board (currently she serves as the Board’s president). “I went to a few meetings,” she recalls, “and saw that CHAI was trying to bring the Northwest neighborhoods together. I believe that had it not been for CHAI, we probably would not have had cohesive relationships with the four other neighborhoods.”

Senior Home Repair Day. Photo courtesy of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

Senior Home Repair Day. Photo courtesy of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

Johnson also credits CHAI with shepherding the NW Presidents Forum through the process of becoming one of only six Baltimore City community organizations to obtain Strategic Neighborhood Action Plan (SNAP) designation in 2003 through then-Mayor Martin O’Malley’s office. The purpose of SNAP is to create comprehensive plans that neighborhoods can use to implement positive changes. After receiving the designation, the group’s steering committee hosted a town meeting open to neighborhood residents and stakeholders to encourage their involvement in the planning process. After completion of the first SNAP plan in 2004, neighborhood improvements were implemented in the areas of housing, land use and zoning, open space, recreation and environment, transportation, streetscapes and gateways, education and schools, and public safety and community relations. In 2010, the NW Presidents Forum held a second town hall meeting to update and develop new recommendations for the strategy going forward.

Continue to Part IV: A Unique Neighborhood

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CHAI: Making A Stand in Upper Park Heights Part 2

Posted on January 18th, 2017 by

Article by Simone Ellin. Originally published in Generations 2009-2010: 50th Anniversary Double Issue: The Search for Social Justice.

Part II: Coming Together

Missed part 1? Start here.

A lot was riding on maintaining a Jewish presence in the neighborhood. For one thing, The Associated had made an enormous investment in Upper Park Heights. Many synagogues, a Jewish Community Center, and Jewish Family Services were all located there. The cost of moving these institutions and rebuilding them elsewhere would be substantial. In addition, The Associated had made a commitment to remain in Baltimore City, as evidenced by its 1980 decision to build a new headquarters at 101 West Mount Royal Avenue, just north of downtown.

But there was more. “I don’t think I quite realized the depth of feeling about these issues in the Jewish community or the African American community,” says Gelula. “What happened elsewhere in Baltimore City was absolutely devastating–block-busting and white flight–no one wanted that again.” Given the painful history of relations between blacks and Jews in Baltimore, many of the leaders involved in the planning process were dubious. They were concerned that a Jewish-sponsored program would cause resentment and tension between the black and Jewish communities. “As it turned out,” Gelula observes, most of the fears were unfounded. “Actually, many African Americans were pleased that the organized Jewish community was standing up for these neighborhoods. And they realized that some of the proposed neighborhood improvement projects would help African American homeowners as well as their Jewish neighbors.”

Some "Passover Partners" help a neighborhood senior prepare her home for the Passover festival. Photo courtesy of the Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

Some “Passover Partners” help a neighborhood senior prepare her home for the Passover festival. Photo courtesy of the Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

Gelula recalls, “We began operation in the ground floor of the old Beth Jacob Hebrew School building. Initially there were only two employees who had to do everything: events, PR, advertising, homeownership assistance, services to older homeowners, block organizing.” One of CHAI’s first programs after its reorganization was a Sukkah tour designed to bring visitors to the neighborhood. The tour was part of a kick-off to promote the community and to showcase its unique character. At the same time, CHAI organized a homeownership assistance program with loan funds provided by The Associated. Within a year, Gelula hired a community organizer who began to implement block projects targeted to streets that the organization sought to improve and promote. CHAI worked with homeowners on streets like Narcissus, Jonquil, Clover, and Highgate, convincing many households to invest in their homes and streets, primarily in exterior facades and landscaping. CHAI also worked out cooperative relationships with lenders in the area. Later, CHAI organized tours for realtors, reintroducing them to the neighborhood and highlighting the improvements that were transforming the area.

CHAI’s homeowner assistance programs proved popular with both African American and Jewish homeowners. And the block projects had an additional benefit, Gelula notes. “They brought African American and Jewish homeowners together in each other’s homes. Neighbors learned that they had much in common with one another. People relaxed and enjoyed themselves. When a block project was completed, it was not unusual for the owners to feel that the most important product was the success in bringing people together.”

Volunteers from across the community came together to build the Fallstaff School-Community PLayground in 2009. Photo courtesy of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore

Volunteers from across the community came together to build the Fallstaff School-Community PLayground in 2009. Photo courtesy of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

Fulfilling its original mission, CHAI paid special attention to the needs of older homeowners through a grant it received from Baltimore City. Recruiting volunteers from within and outside of the community, CHAI created programs for neighborhood seniors including Senior Home Repair and Weatherization Days and the Passover Partners Program, when volunteers go into the homes of Jewish seniors to help them ready their homes for the Passover holiday.

CHAI also formed partnerships with other community organizations in the five Northwest Baltimore neighborhoods that it serves: Fallstaff, Cross Country, and Glen in Upper Park Heights, and Cheswolde and Mount Washington. CHAI introduced community volunteer projects that improved neighborhood conditions while also bringing neighbors of different backgrounds together, such as the Fallstaff playground building project in 2009 and the Western Run stream cleaning day.

Continue to Part III: Attention to Detail

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CHAI: Making A Stand in Upper Park Heights Part 1

Posted on January 16th, 2017 by

Article by Simone Ellin. Originally published in Generations 2009-2010: 50th Anniversary Double Issue: The Search for Social Justice.

Part I: A Story of Migration

The story of Baltimore Jewry is first and foremost a story of migration. It begins with the transatlantic crossing of Jews from Europe to America in several waves from the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries—but it doesn’t end there. Once settled in Baltimore, and as they became assimilated and financially secure, most Jews moved from downtown immigrant enclaves first to northwest city neighborhoods and later to the northwest suburbs.

A streetscape in Upper Park Heights. Photo courtesy of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore

A streetscape in Upper Park Heights. Photo courtesy of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore

In one neighborhood, the familiar migration pattern has been interrupted. The Jews’ movement out of the Upper Park Heights section of Baltimore City and into the suburbs has been forestalled partly thanks to the work of Comprehensive Housing Assistance Inc., better known as CHAI. The community development and housing arm of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, CHAI promotes homeownership for people of all ethnic and religious backgrounds, develops housing, and carries out other activities that support community stability and neighborhood improvement. While the agency has built senior housing facilities in Baltimore County, CHAI’s primary focus is Upper Park Heights, a neighborhood that is home to large numbers of Orthodox Jews and African Americans.

When The Associated founded CHAI in 1969, its acronym stood for Comprehensive Housing for the Aging, Inc., and its primary objective was to provide housing for the elderly. The organization was created after The Associated’s 1967 demographic study of the Jewish community exposed a need for more comprehensive services for an increasingly aged population. CHAI’s first project was the establishment of Concord House, The Associated’s first residential facility for seniors. Fourteen years would pass before CHAI would morph into the organization it is today.

In 1983 CHAI took on a new mission and a new name: Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc. The transition came about when community leaders recognized the need to address larger issues of neighborhood change and racial succession in the Northwest area, where major communal institutions were centered. Social worker and community planner Ken Gelula was a new staff member in The Associated’s Planning Department when he began working with a lay committee to generate ideas for neighborhood stabilization in the area. After meeting with representatives of various communal organizations and city agencies, the lay group concluded that The Associated would need to put resources into a comprehensive effort to stabilize the neighborhood. Since CHAI already existed as a corporate entity focused on housing issues, Associated officials decided to ask CHAI to assume responsibility for a neighborhood stabilization program, in addition to continuing its services to seniors. Gelula was named Executive Director of the revamped organization, a post he holds to this day.

Former CHAI executive director Ken Gelula (right) meets with stakeholders. Photo courtesy of the Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

Former CHAI executive director Ken Gelula (right) meets with stakeholders. Photo courtesy of the Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.

CHAI’s task was to prevent history from repeating itself. “In 1970,” Gelula explains, “the southern part of Park Heights, between Northern Parkway and Belvedere Avenue, was 50 percent white and 50 percent African American. The area to the north, from Northern Parkway to Glen Avenue, was 90 percent Jewish. By 1980, the area south of Northern Parkway had become 90 percent African American and in Upper Park Heights the percentage of Jews had shrunk to 60 percent.” Jewish communal leaders had experienced this trend before. They were concerned that within a few years there would be virtually no Jews remaining in Park Heights.

Rabbi Elchonan Oberstein, a member of the Park Heights Orthodox community, recalls what he perceived as a drastic change in the neighborhood between the late 1960s and late 1970s. “I was married to a girl who grew up on Glen Avenue in 1969. After we were married we lived on Devonshire off Park Heights Avenue for a short while. We moved away for some years, and came back to the neighborhood in 1977. When we returned we found that the neighborhood had changed so rapidly. There were much fewer Jews, and there was a real fear that Upper Park Heights would become like Lower Park Heights, Forest Park, and other Baltimore city neighborhoods that once had thriving Jewish communities. We ended up living at 5905 Park Heights Avenue. It was a duplex we bought for $27,000. People thought we were taking a big chance by buying there,” says Rabbi Oberstein.

Continue to Part II: Coming Together

 

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