In 2015, OSI Community Fellow Shelley Halstead moved to Baltimore with the single purpose of helping Black women. She founded Black Women Build – Baltimore, an organization dedicated to providing training to Black women in home improvement skills like carpentry, plumbing, and electrical. The goal is to promote economic freedom and intergenerational wealth through home ownership initiatives. Here, Halstead (on ladder), instructs program participant Quanshay Henderson.
Program participants restore vacant and deteriorating homes in West Baltimore – currently the organization owns four properties on Etting Street in the Druid Heights neighborhood. If they complete the program, which includes a multistep application process and a commitment to working on their prospective home Monday-Friday for 16 weeks, participants will have the opportunity to purchase the home.
As part of the training process, Black Women Build - Baltimore connects participants with partners like NHS (Neighborhood Housing Services) to begin the financial counseling portion of the program which can help them navigate the process for qualifying for a home loan. Here, Henderson (right), who is the first participant to be accepted into the program, surveys the façade with Halstead.
In addition to financial literacy training and debt repair, candidates must also participate in trades-related workshops. They can also receive counseling, as well as nutritional awareness information. Halstead recognizes that the process can be daunting for participants, but she is committed to their success. “People get frustrated learning a new skill, feeling like they’re not doing it right,” she says. But that’s precisely why Black Women Build-Baltimore offers wrap-around services. “We work side-by-side with participants and make sure each one succeeds.”
In September of this year, Black Women Build-Baltimore aquired four houses in the 1900 block of Eitting Street in the Druid Heights neighborhood. The plan is to recruit two to three women per year to rehab the homes. Once these four are complete, Halstead will move on to more properties.
“It’s not big in terms of number of houses, but it’s big in terms of what we want to instill in the women,” says Halstead.
By using this whole-block model –in which multiple properties on the same street are renovated and eventually purchased by program participants, Halstead is hoping to create a community of women who support one another.
Halstead (middle) and Henderson (foreground), survey their progress.
“As each house that a participant works on becomes a home, the community grows stronger and more connected. We start with one home and continue until we can do several in a year. In this way, we turn around neighborhoods—house by house, block by block. But most importantly, we expand a Black woman’s life chances. That is immeasurable.”
Henderson, the first participant in BWBB project, will work beside Halstead for about four months to renovate the Etting Street property. Along the way, Halstead and the organization will provide training and instruction in plumbing, carpentry, and electrical – skills that will not only help Henderson maintain her home, but could potentially help her enter the construction sector, where women can make two-to-three times the average salary for women in other fields.
"Becoming a homeowner feels like I'm planting two flowers with one seed," says Henderson. "I get to build personal wealth and re-imagine what community looks like at the same time. It's an awesome feeling!"