With HOPE, house hunters who qualify may find an ideal abode Duplexes offered below market cost CENTRAL -- Union Mills * Westminster * Sandymount * Finksburg

August 30, 1993|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff Writer

It was just an open house for prospective buyers, but Ruth Bowman's five children were ready Saturday to move into one of the two new duplexes at 53 and 55 Union St. in Westminster.

The duplexes were developed by Housing Ownership Purchase

Effort Inc. (HOPE), a nonprofit housing corporation, and built by Masonry Contractors Inc. of Manchester. They will be leased for two or three years -- then sold -- to people who could not afford to buy on the open market.

While their mother looked with adult eyes at the kitchen and half-bath and closet space, the youngsters had plans of their own. Anthony, 9, and Paul Jr., 9, thought it would be cool to have the downstairs bedroom.

"And if anyone comes to stay, me and Paul Jr. could sleep in the playroom," Anthony said. They did handstands in the carpeted family room and poked their noses into the furnace room, which Anthony decided would also make a good bedroom. Dustin, 4, an aspiring basketball player, wanted to play guard on an imaginary team in the upstairs bedroom.

Ms. Bowman, who now lives on Liberty Street, decided at the end of the tour that she would be interested in the house at 55 Union St. She preferred its layout.

"The name of the game is having a happy family move in," said Bernard L. Jones, president of HOPE. A HOPE committee will weigh applications and select the buyers.

Each house has three bedrooms, 1 1/2 baths, a deck and a basement room that could be a den or family room.

Martin K. P. Hill, president of Masonry Contractors, said he has been interested in affordable housing for the community.

"We sell more than 200 houses a year at a profit. We certainly can afford to sell two at cost," he said.

Mr. Hill said a similar duplex in the Westminster area would sell on the open market for about $95,000. The HOPE board will sell the houses at $70,000 each.

The city housing office obtained a $25,600 state grant that HOPE will apply toward repayment of its construction loan.

Ralph Hooper, a HOPE board member, can envision children playing in the back yards. "There's plenty of yard room for a growing family," he said during a tour of the houses.

The duplexes are on a lot HOPE acquired in the late 1970s when it bought Union Street properties owned by Western Maryland College.

Applications from individuals or childless couples will be considered, Mr. Hooper said. But he said the HOPE board's goal is to rent to families with children.

Tenants will be chosen by an eight-member committee made up of HOPE directors and a representative from the city housing office. The committee will check references and credit, rank the applications and interview top candidates.

Sponsors are limiting applications to families that earn at least $27,200 a year, to ensure that tenants will be able to buy the house in three to five years. Meanwhile, they will have to meet monthly expenses of $490 for rent, an estimated $120 for utilities and minimum $70 escrow account payment.

The escrow account is to allow buyers to save at least $4,200 for a down payment on their houses in three to five years.

Maximum incomes allowed under the state grant are $30,200 for a family of two, $37,750 for four and $43,800 for six. "We had hoped to go lower [minimum income]," said Karen K. Blandford, city housing and community development supervisor. "But we don't believe in setting people up for failure."

Mr. Hooper said the selection process will focus on finding tenants who will be able to buy the houses. "We don't want to move someone in and have to move them out," he said.

The townhouses are HOPE's first lease-purchase project, Mr. Jones said. The housing corporation was formed in 1969. It owns 20 rental units in Union Village on Union Street and six on $H Charles Street and has developed and sold two houses in cooperation with the Carroll County Career and Technology Center.

Interested residents can pick up applications at the city housing office in Winchester Exchange and the HOPE office, 19 Union St.

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