Before Mary Malachi goes to work every morning, she forces her husband to drive past a littered, empty plot of land in the 1500 block of Retreat Street in West Baltimore.
As her eyes scan the empty lot, she doesn't see the broken glass or paper bags.
She sees, instead, her new home.
Until six months ago, Mrs. Malachi, 64, had given up her dream of ever owning a house. But in June she will move into a three-bedroom town house to be built on that lot -- a home she bought for $37,000 through a unique partnership between religious groups and government.
The Nehemiah Project will provide 300 homes for low- to moderate-income families. The town houses will be completed by this summer in the Sandtown-Winchester and Penn-North neighborhoods in West Baltimore.
The $25 million project was initiated by Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, better known as BUILD, a coalition of 45 churches seeking opportunities to help restore inner city neighborhoods and instilla sense of pride in the members of their congregations.
That sense of pride has been achieved for Mrs. Malachi, a member of St. Peter Claver Church.
"I feel really good," she said. "When I go to bed I'm thinking about it. I wake up thinking about it. I guess people get tired of me talking about it, but I have worked ever since I was 16 years old and I neverthought something like this would come along for someone like me."
BUILD, which raised $2.4 million for the project and has provided other invaluable voluntary work, will be recognized today by the Points of Light Foundation, a non-profit agency established by the Bush administration to support the work of volunteers across the nation.
Jack F. Kemp, the secretary of housing and urban development, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Gov. William Donald Schaefer are among the government officials scheduled to attend the award presentation, which begins at noon in the Penn-North neighborhood at the intersection of Retreat and Woodbrook streets.
Also attending will be Harborplace developer James Rouse, who is on the board of the Points of Light Foundation and is also involved with the development of the Baltimore Nehemiah Project.
Construction of many of the homes began last month, and 134 units have already been sold at a cost kept well below market value by financial support from the Maryland Community Development Administration. The state provided $11.2 million in special financing for eligible homebuyers. As a result of those funds, an applicant earning as little as $11,800 can qualify to buy a home.
The average income of people who have signed contracts is $17,815.
The city provided about $10 million for improvements to the Nehemiah neighborhoods, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development provided a $4.2 million grant.
Like many of the soon-to-be new homeowners, Mrs. Malachi found out about the program through her church, which is in the 1500 block of North Fremont Avenue -- a neighborhood stricken with crime and drugs.
The pastor of the Roman Catholicchurch, the Rev. Robert M. Kearns, has worked in the last several years to help BUILD raise its share of the money for the project because he feels Nehemiah will help stabilize the decaying communities.
"But there was also some self-interest," he said. "This church has existed in the same building for 103 years, and I think it's a worthwhile institution that should continue. And the only way to accomplish that is to have people coming from the neighborhoods."
Father Kearns said that as many middle-class blacks left their inner city neighborhoods, homeownership in these communities declined and soon many houses were boarded up and businesses abandoned.
Since the project was announced four years ago -- with a grand celebration at St. Peter Claver Church -- Father Kearns has sought out prospective buyers and organized mandatory workshops for those who sign contracts. In the workshops, the prospective homeowners learn to make home repairs, budget their money and organize effective neighborhood associations.
"For us it's not only the rebuilding of the bricks and mortar but also the human infrastructure of the community that's important," said Gary Rodwell, chief organizer of BUILD.
Mrs. Malachi is confident that the Nehemiah homeowners won't be overwhelmed by the problems of crime and drugs.
"I'm a little afraid, but I don't want it to overpower me because I believe if we stick together we can overcome," she said. "Besides, we all own our homes, so we won't be afraid to speak out when we need help from the city or when we want drug dealers to get off our streets."