Otterbein Homesteading and Inner Harbor Redevelopment

Otterbein Homesteading and Inner Harbor Redevelopment

by Joseph Cronyn, Principal
Lipman Frizzell & Mitchell LLC

As part of the 240-acre Inner Harbor Urban Renewal Area, the original plans (1969) for the 3-block Otterbein homesteading area had called for its demolition and houses were vacated. By the time the City was ready to proceed with clearance, however, changes in economic conditions and in attitudes towards historic preservation, encouraged the City to announce Otterbein homesteading in January 1975 as part of the City’s urban homesteading program which had been initiated at the end of 1973. We examine Otterbein homesteading in context of the broader Inner Harbor redevelopment within which it was a key element.

Otterbein Homesteading

The initial 104-member Otterbein homesteader group was diverse in every way. Seventy eight households (75%) were most recently renters, most frequently (58%) coming from Baltimore City. The median age of the head of household was 30.5 years. Three quarters of households were 1-2 persons. Non-white households represented 12.5% of Otterbein homesteaders. The median household income for the group was $17,580 ($70,847 in 2012 dollars), though incomes ranged from $4,608 to $85,800. Homesteaders’ median total rehab investment in their properties was $39,900 ($160,797 in 2012).

The initial response to Otterbein homesteading was enthusiastic, generating 800 applications (each applicant could apply for only one home) for the 104 residential properties-no doubt encouraged by high expectations for investment payoff. Roger Windsor, director of the City’s Homeownership Development Program at the time, is quoted as saying, “This is an unbeatable economic attraction. When the Inner Harbor work is finished, these homesteaders’ houses will be gold-plated.” Indeed, reviewing tax records for the homestead properties, their current total assessed market value is $55 million or an average of $528,421 per property. Property tax revenue up to $1.2 million annually is generated for Baltimore City.

Inner Harbor Renewal

Trends in census tract 2201.01 (including Otterbein and encompassing the Inner Harbor Urban Renewal Area) are indicative of the success of the City’s master planned redevelopment overall. That census tract stretches from Pratt Street on the north to Warren Avenue on the south, from the Jones Falls on the east to Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard on the west.

U.S. Census records track the decline of the area-as progressive deterioration and eminent domain took their effect-to only 654 households, a homeownership rate of 16.2%, median household income of $20,013 ($2012) and a median value for an owner-occupied unit of $33,158 ($2012) in 1970. Since then the rebound has been remarkable. In 2010 the area contained 2,306 households with a median income of $62,094 ($2012), a homeownership rate of 38.6% and a median home value of $393,540 ($2012). The following table documents trends over six decades:

Census Tract 2201.01

1950 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2010
Population 4,689 3,253 1,935 1,120 3,642 4,052 4,025
Households 1,147 857 654 585 1,836 2,139 2,306
Med. Hhld Income $13,702 $16,325 $20,013 $15,961 $55,962 $66,523 $62,094
Homeownership 19.4% 21.3% 16.2% 29.6% 35.7% 41.2% 38.6%
Med. Rent $260 n/a $337 $321 $656 $705 $543
Med. Value $35,748 n/a $33,158 $210,145 $269,161 $2,412,700 $393,540
* All U.S. Census data; except 2010 income, rent, home value from Amer. Comm. Survey (2005-2009).
** All currency values adjusted for inflation (CPI adjustment) and stated in 2012 dollars.

According to tax records, the area currently has a diverse mix of land uses including commercial, institutional, industrial, multifamily and residential uses. The total assessed value of property paying taxes within the area is now $1.3 billion, generating up to approximately $29.2 million in revenue for the City annually. In addition, the area hosts important public uses drawing people downtown including the Oriole Park at Camden Yard stadium, convention center, Inner Harbor, Otterbein Church, Deaton Medical Center and many more.

Lessons Learned

Otterbein homesteading was very successful, but only one element of the comprehensive redevelopment of the Inner Harbor area. Its success was attributable to a combination of factors including: location, critical mass, master planned environment, favorable financing terms and more.


The writer appreciates the assistance of Ms. Cass Gottlieb, now a principal with Kann Partners and in 1976 the Otterbein Project Coordinator for the City, who provided her personal archives for our research. In addition, Ms. Amy Swackhamer, Manager, Regional Information Center of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, assisted in researching U.S. Census historical data.

Joseph M. Cronyn is a principal of Lipman Frizzell & Mitchell LLC, a prominent real estate consulting and valuation firm in the Washington-Baltimore area.  Cronyn has broad experience in real estate development, financing and market research.  His areas of expertise include:  market and financial feasibility analysis; economic and community development issues; fiscal impact analysis; affordable and market rate multifamily rental housing; commercial development strategies; litigation support.  Cronyn advises private, public and non-profit clients throughout the Mid-Atlantic
Cronyn earned his Master’s Degree in Business Administration (Executive Program) from Loyola College Maryland and his Bachelor’s Degree from Boston College.  Cronyn began his real estate career in Baltimore as a housing activist with St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center.  He has been deeply involved in community affairs and redevelopment efforts throughout Baltimore City for more than 35 years.