Baltimore is tough for homebuyersStephen P. Bowler's...

the Forum

November 25, 1991

Baltimore is tough for homebuyers

Stephen P. Bowler's article on making Baltimore a more attractive place to buy a home ("And in Maryland, make towns and cities livable," Nov. 20) reminded me of my own frustrating experiences. It is more difficult to buy a house in Baltimore than Mr. Bowler realizes. My experiences with Maryland lending institutions and tax laws ultimately led me to seek satisfaction elsewhere.

After moving to Maryland from Virginia, I was looking for an older city home to renovate.My cash resources were limited. While I found plenty of worthy homes in the neighborhoods of Bolton Hill, Fells Point, and Butcher's Hill, I was unable to find a bank willing to finance both purchase and rehabilitation costs with one loan. This is of utmost importance to many who would like an older home, have the necessary income to make payments, yet are hard-pressed to provide equity. In a city with such a large old house inventory, such mortgages should be as common as the construction mortgage is in the suburbs.

The last straw was the city's property tax rates. Buyers of renovated homes selling for $65,000 were hit with a $2,000 tax bill. Maryland's Draconian property tax laws made this fee due at closing, adding to an already exorbitant closing-cost bill. Lack of adequate financing and insufficient closing cost funds drove me out of Baltimore before I could even choose a home.

To make the city more attractive to would-be home owners, I suggest the following:

1. City government and local lenders should jointly develop rehabilitation programs allowing would-be city residents who can afford the payments to purchase and renovate existing older homes with a single mortgage, with minimal cash outlay.

2. The city should assess the value of the property before the rehab. The home's tax would then be based on this low assessment, and no new assessment would be performed for five years. This would effectively offer a tax incentive to revitalize neighborhoods.

Renovating older homes is a good way of generating equity and revitalizing city neighborhoods, but as long as the costs outweigh the benefits, people will continue to relocate to the suburbs, or even leave the state.

Sanford S. Cormack Jr.

Delta, Pa.

EMF debate

As a graduate electrical engineer and a practicing physical scientist, I protest Kieron F. Quinn's intemperate attack on Robert Park of the University of Maryland in the Forum Nov. 6. The question of the health effects of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) is far from settled. Mr. Quinn misquoted (by omission) an EPA report which concluded that EMFs were "a probable but not proven" cancer risk and accused Dr. Park of "junk science."

Late last year the journal Science ran a series of articles on this question. The series noted much of the research alluded to by Mr. Quinn. It also noted that many physicists and biophysicists are skeptical of the effects since their "high school" physics tells them that the energy levels due to power lines, appliances, etc. are too low to cause mutations in DNA and are much lower than EMFs produced naturally in the human body and by the Earth's magnetic field.

Epidemiological studies have shown high rates of certain cancers due to EMF exposure but the incidence levels are so low that larger studies are needed. There is also biological evidence that EMFs affect things like calcium uptake in cell membranes, but there are no proven physical mechanisms for these effects.

I don't feel Dr. Park is "selling artichokes." The jury is still out, and I for one am not convinced of the health hazards of EMFs. I am certainly not a flack for the electric power industry. Maybe Mr. Quinn's attitudes have been influenced by the fact that he is a lawyer and not a scientist.

Robert E. Franz

Perry Hall

Abusing freedom

Gaining access to the media is not difficult, as citizens' and interest groups demonstrate every day. Although it may not always appear that way, in the long run it is in the best interest of every citizen ` including those of us who frequently provide information to the media ` that the highest editorial standards be observed.

When one of the media's own uses this access for his own fun, as did Forbes FYI editor, Christopher Buckley recently, in reporting to ABC World News Tonight that the Soviet Union was preparing to sell Lenin's body, we are reminded about how enormous is the editor's responsibility.

Ready access to the media is the lifeblood of free expression. Those who abuse it threaten all of us.

Richards R. Badmington


Keyes can win

I hope you are right in your assessment that the only two obstacles Alan Keyes has to overcome to win a Senate seat are that conservatives don't vote for blacks, and blacks don't vote for conservatives ("The comeback of Keyes," Nov. 18). If you are as wrong about blacks as you are about conservatives (I am one who will vote enthusiastically for him), he will win easily.

The only thing Barbara Mikulski has going for her is incumbency, and in today's political climate, that ought to be more of a liability than an asset.

Dave Reich


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