Good News & Bad News: Canton Is Booming

by Susan Lennon
$1800 a month rent in Baltimore? For a place in Canton? You’re kidding, right? Nope.
       I moved from Los Angeles to Baltimore last year. I was looking forward to the move—smaller city, lower cost of living. I mean, how much can it cost to live in Baltimore?

       My roommates found a rowhouse in Canton for $1800 a month. In Baltimore? Granted, it was huge, three stories and tons of space. But $1800 a month? In Baltimore?

       We moved in. Every person I met warned me about the crime in the area. From the stories I heard, it was a small miracle every time I went out to my car and it was still there. From my perspective, I had moved from an affluent, safe community in Santa Monica to a crime-ridden city. Yet I was still paying the same in rent.

       As the months went by, I realized Canton as a neighborhood has changed enormously in the past few years and the rental/housing costs reflect that.

       Take my neighbor, for instance—urban bachelor Jason La Confora. “I can’t believe how this area has changed since my childhood,” he says, standing on the doorstep of his rehabbed rowhouse. “It’s dumb-founding.”

        La Confora remembers a childhood playing soccer in the dead of winter in rat-infested warehouses along Boston Street. It was a desolate area then, filled with run-down bars and abandoned dwellings. Canton as its own community didn’t seem to exist. It was an industrial wasteland.

       Veteran realtor Jakob Metz also remembers Canton in its earlier days. “Ten years ago, if someone would call me to sell a house in Canton, I would shudder,” he says. “The possibility of selling it was not very good.”

       Metz is assistant manager at the Fells Point branch of O’Conor, Piper and Flynn and has been working this area for 28 years. “A non-rehabbed house in Canton back then would go for maybe $30,000,” he says.

       Then along came a supermarket.

       According to Metz, the Safeway moved in on Boston Street and that prompted a change. “Businesses followed, renovations slowly began and the area just took off.” Canton quickly became defined as a community that stood out on the east side of town. The houses that previously went for $30,000 now sell anywhere between $80,000 to $100,000.

       La Confora, 27, bought his house just a block off Boston Street last year. He is still amazed at how much he paid for it. “The market in Canton,” he says, “is completely astronomical.” He believes though, considering the factors involved, the price for his house was fair. “Compared to some houses I looked at closer to the (Canton) Square, I think I got a good deal.”

        La Confora is happy he bought when he did. “For me, as long as there is a market demand to keep this going, I’m comfortable.”

       Metz confirms there definitely is a demand. “It’s still very much a growth market,” he says. He describes Canton today as “multi-faceted,” with new construction in addition to a boom in housing rehabilitation, which makes up the majority of his business.

       New developments are driving the market up—projects like North Shore on Boston Street. Just across the street from La Confora, new townhouses are under construction, with prices starting in the upper $200’s. “There is enough going on around here—more office buildings and commercial development,” he says, “ that I’m confidant I’m going to get a significant return on my investment.”

        So who is moving to Canton? “Young professionals from the counties” are Metz’s largest client base. After that, empty-nesters. Senior citizens are taking advantage of new condos that come with amenities like parking and security. “Everything is within walking distance,” he says. That consideration is what attracts so many to this area.

       But for all the young folks moving in, a regular sight in the neighborhood is the old-timers relaxing on their doorsteps on these summer evenings.

       Leslie Freeman, a resident of Canton for 19 years, is ecstatic about the improvements. “It just seems safer to me,” she says.

       As for the crime situation, I agree. For all the stories I heard when I first arrived, I’ve never once witnessed or been a victim of an incident of crime in this neighborhood, even though (due to lack of parking) I walk around a lot at night.

       Although Freeman says she is staying put, Metz says he has a lot of older residents cashing in on the market. By selling now, he says, “they are in a much better financial situation than they ever imagined.”

       So what are my chances of finding a decent one-bedroom apartment in Canton for under $800 a month? “There is a correlation between rents and what the houses are sold for,” explains Metz. Translation: no chance whatsoever.

        The booming market in Canton is spilling over into neighborhoods like Butcher’s Hill and Upper Fells Point. “The entire East Side is swimming upwards,” he says.

       That’s good news for me, because I think that’s where I’m going to be searching for a place to live. Who can, after all, afford to live in Canton?


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This story was published on June 27, 2001.