Howard church lends hand to home-building effort Baltimore renter now a homeowner EAST COLUMBIA

October 13, 1992|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

It required nine months of Saturdays -- cleaning, hammering, sawing -- but members of an Oakland Mills Lutheran church say rebuilding a neglected rowhouse in West Baltimore's Sandtown neighborhood means nearly as much to them as it does to the new resident who's trading in her rundown rental for homeownership.

"It's a really good feeling to do something about one major problem people have," said Columbia resident David Vasholz, who worked with about 50 other volunteers from the Lutheran Church of the Living Word to renovate the rowhouse at 1633 N. Gilmor St.

The congregation, which meets at the Oakland Mills Interfaith Center, worked with the Sandtown Habitat for Humanity to help improve living conditions for Darlene McCarter, a longtime Sandtown resident.

"It feels great to own. It's a dream come true for me," said Ms. McCarter, 40, who took a day off Friday from her job as a housekeeper at a Glen Burnie hotel to get ready to move. "I never thought I would have it. I can't wait to get in."

The church members did touch-up work Saturday in preparation for a dedication on Sunday.

Ms. McCarter planned to move in today with her 17-year-old son, James.

Sandtown Habitat for Humanity is a non-profit housing organization dedicated to eliminating substandard housing, increasing homeownership and improving health services for the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood, whose households have a median annual income of less than $10,000.

The Sandtown project is one of about 700 affiliates of Habitat for Humanity International.

The 70-square-block Sandtown-Winchester area has about 600 vacant houses, and a population of about 15,000 living in mostly substandard rentals owned by absentee landlords.

The Sandtown organization buys vacant and other low-priced housing units. It seeks church groups, community organizations and businesses to help raise money and renovate.

The Enterprise Foundation of Columbia, an organization formed by James Rouse to develop creative ways to finance and provide affordable housing, contributes to the mortgage financing.

The homeowner is required to help with renovation work -- called "sweat equity" -- and pays a no-interest mortgage based on the rehabilitation costs. Ms. McCarter's five children helped, including her son, Gary Mitchell, 20, a full-time worker for the Sandtown Habitat.

Pastor Janice Marie Lowden said the project was as uplifting for the congregation, which worked on the North Gilmor Street home every Saturday since January, as it was for Ms. McCarter.

"It brought all ages in the congregation together for a common task and purpose," she said. "It was good to see young people and older people working side by side. We've been involved in a lot of community-service projects, but this is one of the largest and most extensive."

Mr. Vasholz, 49, a physicist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory near Columbia, said he enjoyed learning about construction.

"It gave me a chance to pick up the shop credits I never earned in school," he joked. "It was a good change of pace from my everyday work. It was nice to go out and do something with my hands."

Before congregation members could begin interior work, they had to help clear out seven dump truck loads of trash that had accumulated in the home, including a dozen or more bowling balls.

A renter had lived in the home for several decades, and had recently died.

"There was so much in the house, we couldn't get into the first floor through all the boxes," said Pastor Lowden.

The congregation, Habitat workers and other volunteers replaced a leaky roof, erected a new support frame, rebuilt damaged floors and ceilings, reinforced bricks, replaced doors and trim, restored a back porch, painted, and installed new kitchen and bathroom facilities.

Allan Tibbels, director of the Sandtown Habitat, praised the church group for its positive attitude, perseverance and work ethic.

"They were very willing to do this and they thoroughly enjoyed it all the way through," he said.

Ms. McCarter, who earns $5.75 per hour, will buy the rowhouse for about $25,000, and will pay about $175 monthly, including taxes, insurance and some maintenance, over a 20-year mortgage, Mr. Tibbels said. That's less than the $260 she pays now to rent a rowhouse she says is "falling apart."

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