Viola Holmes climbed onto the second step of her new home, put her arm around Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and received a nice round of applause from the folks gathered in the street to welcome her to the neighborhood.
Holmes, 49, a cook of modest means, stood outside her rowhouse in the Middle East neighborhood, beamed and said: "I never been to nothing like this before in my life. I'm so proud."
Holmes is the 100th person to buy a house in Middle East, which is just north of Johns Hopkins Hospital. She purchased it with the help of Southeast Development Inc., a community-development organization. Schmoke, City Council President Mary Pat Clarke and other city and community leaders attended a ceremony Thursday in the struggling, but hopeful, East Baltimore neighborhood.
Along with the city and Maryland National Bank, SDI issued loans to Holmes so she could buy the house. Workers rehabilitating it -- a shell of a rowhouse on East Eager Street a couple of doors west of North Washington Street -- said Holmes should be able to move in in two months. Meanwhile, she will continue sharing a house with her daughter and her daughter's five children.
Holmes' mortgage payment will be about $300 a month. She said she would not have been able to afford the house without help.
Her new neighborhood contains plenty of other abandoned and run-down homes, which Schmoke described as "challenges" rather than "problems." Shirley Washington, Holmes' new next-door neighbor, would like to see those challenges cleaned up and occupied.
"It makes me feel good to see that the neighborhood is trying to come back," Washington said. "I think it's going to make it."
Washington, 65, has lived here since 1959, when nearly everyone around owned his own place and kept it up.
But some of the older residents died, some of the younger ones moved out, some of the nice houses got turned into apartments, men started drinking and carrying on in the street, and then the drug addicts moved in. That's how Washington sees it.
"Now we have just about a shooting every week around here," she said. "It's just bad, you know."
But things are getting a little better, Washington said. The city and local banks and organizations such as SDI are helping to renovate homes and find good people to live there.
What's more, after five years or so, Washington has a next-door neighbor.
"Thank God!" she said. "God sure does answer prayers."