How could it be possible that in the middle of an
unprecedented housing boom in Baltimore City, a number of
stable middle-class neighborhoods with favorable images
were not taking part? Housing price increases for these
neighborhoods were well below the roaring 19 percent
increase for all city neighborhoods for the year 2003 to
To Sandra Newman, director of the
Institute for Policy Studies and professor for the
class Policy Analysis for the Real World, the riddle seemed
an ideal problem with which to challenge her first-year
master's in policy studies students.
So, posing as Mayor Martin O'Malley directing a
research assignment to city Housing Commissioner Paul
Graziano, Newman outlined the problem in a fictitious memo
charging her 28 students to come up with in-depth analysis
and recommendations. Last Tuesday in Homewood's Hodson
Hall, they presented their research data and findings to an
interested audience of more than 70 people who included
Graziano, two members of the City Council and other
prominent Baltimore residents keenly interested in the
The students began by analyzing some commonly held
theories about house price appreciation; for example, many
believe that such things as strong homeownership, good
schools and a lack of crime are factors that contribute to
faster-rising home prices. They then proceeded to outline
the mountain of research they sifted through in making
their report. Researching five individual census tract
neighborhoods with median incomes above the city average,
stable and with good reputations, they found that these
neighborhoods nonetheless had home sale prices that rose
much less than in the city as a whole.
In their review, the students pored over decades'
worth of census data and city records, and conducted 76
field interviews with residents, business owners,
neighborhood activists and experts; they also read news
accounts of these neighborhoods for the past five years in
City Paper and The Baltimore Sun. In addition, the students
went out into the neighborhoods to observe conditions and
to build databases of information on such things as upkeep,
cleanliness and public transportation.
What they found was somewhat surprising.
The things they thought would have an impact on the
slower-rising home price neighborhoods actually didn't
factor into the equation. By comparing their subject
neighborhoods with adjacent neighborhoods that had
faster-rising home prices, they discovered that the quality
of schools (as measured by test scores), crime rates
(reported property and violent crimes) and levels of
homeownership didn't make a difference.
To get answers, they had to dig deeper into the
specifics of each neighborhood. For the Waltherson
neighborhood situated between Harford and Belair roads, the
students discovered that all the neighborhoods oriented
toward Belair Road had slower-rising home prices, while
those oriented toward Harford Road had faster-rising
The difference, they theorized, was that the Belair
Road corridor had little community development corporation
investment and little in the way of beautification
projects, while Harford Road had a lot of community
investment in the road and in projects to beautify it. This
translated into a better perception of adjacent
neighborhoods and higher home prices.
In several neighborhoods, race seemed to play a role.
In the Frankford neighborhood in Northeast Baltimore, for
example, they speculated that there was a correlation in
home price increases and the percentage of white residents
vs. African-American residents; the higher the percentage
of white residents, the faster home prices were rising,
during the time period studied.
"We think we have found a trend connecting race with
home price appreciation," said Sarah Brown, one of the
In other neighborhoods, such as Morgan
Park/Lauraville, the kind of housing within the
neighborhood seemed to make a big difference in home price
appreciation. In the blocks with attached brick homes,
prices rose more slowly than in blocks with large Victorian
homes, the students said.
In another neighborhood studied, Mayfield/Belair
Edison, its proximity to parks led students to believe the
parks would play a role in boosting home prices, but in the
final analysis, they did not.
In their conclusions, the students theorized that
quality of schools didn't have an impact on home price
appreciation in certain neighborhoods because many
Baltimore residents there send their children to private
schools; likewise, the percentage of homeownership didn't
have a big impact on home prices, as they had thought it
Sarah Brannen, one of the student researchers,
concluded the presentation by noting that while many of the
houses in these neighborhoods are not appreciating as fast
as those in similar neighborhoods, that might not be all
"Although the neighborhoods seemed to be, quote
unquote, left behind," she said, "we felt they offer the
very necessary option of affordable housing for the
residents of Baltimore."
Graziano followed the presentation carefully and
appeared to be taking copious notes.
"I compliment the students in the class for taking on
this assignment," he said afterward. "It is a complex set
He noted that housing types (detached vs. attached)
"clearly are a variable in the neighborhoods you selected,"
but in some of the hottest neighborhoods in Baltimore,
prices aren't being held back by small attached homes. But
Graziano said that is likely a function of location more
About the Frankford area studied, Graziano said he is
hopeful that some changes there will yield some positive
results in the coming years, but he noted that the
neighborhood is sliced in half by power lines that have an
impact on home prices, "and we can't move them."
Overall, Graziano said, "it's a very interesting,
thought-provoking study. It probably raises as many
questions as it answers, but that's probably the nature of
these types of studies."
Two members of the City Council, Rochelle "Rikki"
Spector (D-5th) and James B. Kraft (D-1st), were also on
hand. Both seemed impressed by the student analysis and had
thoughtful questions and comments. Kraft noted that the
work underscores the continuing divide between rich and
poor Baltimore, with rich Baltimore being predominantly
white, and poor being predominantly African-American. "It's
the two Baltimores," he said. "We certainly have a
challenge to change that."