By many measures, Harlem Park, an overwhelmingly African American neighborhood in West Baltimore, is struggling. More than a third of households are below the poverty line; more than a third of properties are abandoned; there are no banks, and 40% of households don’t have internet access. Only about a quarter of homes are owned by residents, mostly by older people. With her organization Parity, Bree Jones wants to change that.
Jones is working to increase affordable home ownership opportunities, particularly for people in historically redlined neighborhoods. “Home ownership is such an integral component for healthy and thriving neighborhoods,” she says.
She buys abandoned buildings and creates pathways for local residents to transition into ownership, with the goal of giving people more of a stake in their own neighborhood. Parity taps into existing groups of friends, extended family, colleagues, and congregations in Harlem Park and across Baltimore to create ways for these organic peer groups to buy homes together on a block-by-block basis. “We use collective economics to reduce any one individual’s risk, while deepening the human bonds that make community,” says Jones. “If we have 30 homeowners who all move onto a block at one time, that radically changes the dynamic of a distressed area.”
Parity has already acquired six properties and is in the process of securing more. Renovations will begin early next year on these houses. So far, 25 people have been pre-qualified and pre-committed to purchase. All 25 are Black, mostly low- and moderate-income individuals between the ages of 25 and 65, who are currently renting in Baltimore.
Beyond increasing home ownership in the neighborhood, Parity is also partnering with the Maryland Volunteer Lawyer Service and Fight Blight Bmore to reduce the risk of displacement and home loss for current Harlem Park homeowners and renters. The trio connects legacy residents with pro-bono legal services, financial resources, and aging-in-place resources as another way, says Jones, “to protect Black space, Black wealth, and Black homeownership.”
Jones began her career as a financial analyst on Wall Street. But eight years ago, she saw that her hometown, New Rochelle, a small city just north of New York City, was rapidly becoming gentrified, pricing out longtime residents. She decided to do something about it and began working with a grassroots racial equity group that was advocating for the creation of affordable housing in New Rochelle. She also bought and redeveloped an abandoned property there, turning it into three affordable housing units.
But as housing prices continued to rise steeply in New Rochelle, Jones decided to focus on a place where affordable housing could be more easily scaled. She fell in love with Baltimore, moved here almost three years ago, and started Parity. She chose West Baltimore because it reminds her of where she grew up. “I’d like to raise my future kids here,” says Jones, “I’m in this for the long term.”
Jones is ecstatic about the OSI Community Fellowship. “It makes me feel like I’m on the right path,” she says. “And it feels really cool to be part of this fantastic community of OSI Fellows. It’s an incredible group.”