Affordable Housing

From Abandoned Building to Vibrant Mixed Rate Housing

Revitalization of a historic police station provides salvation for new tenants in Baltimore’s Fells Point

Walk into the lobby of the new Fells Point Station in Baltimore and you would never guess that it’s mixed rate housing offering affordable and under market housing in one of America’s grittier East Coast cities.

The Lobby of Fells Point Station in Baltimore. It took 19 years to get it to look this way. It's the first new construction in this neighborhood in over 50 years.

In the center of the room, a contemporary gas-burning fireplace burns gently below a huge flat-screen TV mounted on a stone wall. A massive black and white photograph of the neighborhood covers another wall. There’s also modern furniture in shades of turquoise, brown and green welcome visitors, giving the place the feel of an upscale hotel lobby.

This scene is a far cry from what it was just a few years ago. For 19 years, it sat as a bombed-out shell—its roof had collapsed, and the entire building was in danger of crumbling to the ground. Today, the original 16,000-square-foot 1800s brick and masonry building is completely renovated, and an additional 37,000-square-foot addition is joined to it by a glass structure that serves as the lobby entrance. It’s the first new construction in this neighborhood—Baltimore’s oldest, and a major shipbuilding center in the 1700s and 1800s—in over 50 years.

A mixed-income, mixed-use building, it exemplifies how reclaiming old buildings can mean turning dilapidation into beauty, while helping the city’s low-income residents. The building houses 47 one- and two-bedroom apartments. There’s free Wi-Fi, a ground-floor retail space, an exercise room, a multipurpose room for residents, an elevated courtyard, and a green roof above 33 enclosed parking spaces. These design and amenity selections were carefully selected. In an up and coming neighborhood like this, Fells Point Station was built to stand the test of time and to blend in with other new and renovated properties in the area.

But the creative solutions at Fells Point Station go far beyond simply the building design itself. How to structure the deal was key to build support in the community and the developers had a clear vision to make the neighborhood a place that could thrive economically.

Baltimore native and former commissioner of Housing and Community Development in Baltimore, Daniel Henson is the co-developer on the Fells Point Project. Henson Development Company partnered with Mission First Housing Group. Henson Development and Mission First have partnered several times before, most notably in the development of affordable senior and family developments in DC Golden Rule Plaza, and Severna. Capital One provided an $8.44 million construction loan and a $1.85 Million permanent loan. Additional funding sources for Fells Point Station included $9.1 million in equity generated by tax credits that come from participating in the federal low income housing tax credit program ($8.47 million) and from taking on qualified historic rehabilitation work ($634,000). Both streams of tax benefit were syndicated by Hudson Housing Capital to Capital One as the sole investor. The City of Baltimore and the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development provided additional development funding through subordinate loans.

Originally, back in 2006, Henson wanted to develop luxury condos on the city-owned site, but then the economy took a nosedive. He quickly discovered that moving toward tiered-income levels helped him qualify for tax credits that could provide needed development capital. Henson, who grew up poor in the Poe Homes nearby, understood what affordable housing could mean to a community. In negotiating with Fells Point community leaders, he learned that the neighborhood liked the idea of making the building 70 percent affordable with the other 30 percent at market rates—bringing a diverse group of new residents into the area.

For one resident, Colin Charon, 53, living at Fells Point Station has helped him get his life back on track. Once an assistant to the famous photographer Annie Leibovitz, Charon fell on hard times. While homeless for five years on Baltimore’s streets, he almost drank himself to death thanks to a one-gallon-a-day vodka habit. He hit rock bottom after a visit to the doctor where he was given a formal letter explaining that if he didn’t stop drinking immediately, death was imminent. That letter now hangs on the wall in his apartment as a constant reminder of just how far he’s come. Sober for over two years now, Charon works as a carpenter and pays just $659 a month in rent—which is half the market rate. He also has a 19-year-old daughter in college.

Charon holds up a framed photo of her standing at his side. Each of them has big smiles.

When I bring my daughter here, it is very important for me to show her that I live in a great place and that I am a good person. — Colin Charon

Charon’s story of salvation, and his rekindled relationship with his daughter, aligns perfectly with Henson’s vision for the mixed-income building. “I grew up in public housing,” he says, “when public housing was actually mixed-income housing, where most of the people worked and had an opportunity to not just live in public housing, but had the opportunity to use it as a springboard for the future.”

By Laura Bailey, Managing Vice President, Community Finance, Capital One