United Workers Housing Art Takeover in McElderry Park
25 Years. 381 Vacant Houses. $30 Million—never landing in the community.
On December 12, a group of McElderry Park residents and volunteers gathered together in the basement of St. John’s United Methodist Church to paint vibrant, positive messages on wooden boards that would fill the windows and doors of vacant houses on the 800 block of Patterson Park Ave—a block that has only three occupied homes.
Named the “United Workers Housing Art Takeover,” a group made up of community members who have experienced homelessness and UMB School of Social Work alumni planned the event to draw attention to the 30 million dollars of income that could have stayed in the McElderry Park community but instead went to investors from outside of the community over the course of the last ten years. Those statistics were found through a survey that Housing Our Neighbors (HON), a nonprofit founded by homeless and formerly homeless individuals, conducted with that block of Patterson Park Ave as the focus.
On the morning of Friday, December 18th, the community gathered together on the 800 block of Patterson Park Ave to demonstrate how vacant housing is not “valueless.”
The Eastside Committee joined with HON to put on the event, highlighting what the community could do with 30 million dollars if they had control of the vacant homes and access to the funds to develop resources for the community—to stay in the community.
Community centers, rec centers, after-school programs, and healthcare facilities were just a few of the ideas that were illustrated beautifully on the wooden boards. HON shared the findings of their People’s Survey of Vacant Housing while community members lined the sidewalks, sharing their own stories.
Francine Wilkes, an Eastside community member and homeowner on the block, spoke at the event along with Mike Coleman, a leadership organizer with United Works, and Iletha Joynes, who read a statement of solidarity from Westport neighborhood of South Baltimore—a neighborhood that has struggled with crime, unemployment, and vacant housing for decades—about the damaging effects of city-owned vacant homes in the community.
The Eastside Committee and United Workers are preparing for the next big Baltimore Rising event, an organizer training on February 13th at St. Wenceslaus Lyceum on Madison St. from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. The event is designed to teach community members how to build political power in their own communities and challenge candidates to be accountable to their constituents. Anyone interested in organizing around the upcoming election is welcome to attend, but should be committed to taking action and getting involved after receiving the training.