City to auction 200 abandoned houses in April

February 19, 1994|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writer

In an effort to rejuvenate neighborhoods scarred with abandoned, boarded-up homes, Baltimore plans to clear out its inventory of properties and auction off 200 of them.

The spring sale, a version of the urban homesteading program of the 1970s, gives the city a chance to get dilapidated rowhouses renovated and back on the tax rolls. For as little as a few hundred dollars, buyers can obtain one of the rowhouses scattered across Baltimore from Reservoir Hill to Greenmount to Oliver.

Unlike last year's highly touted tax sale of 1,500 vacant homes, the auction is geared toward individual homeowners instead of investors.

City Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III made clear yesterday that the sale differs markedly from last year's auction, which generated mostly investment interest.

Because of the complex foreclosure process, only 350 of the 1,500 privately owned homes from that sale have new owners. One of the main obstacles was that bidders could not apply for mortgages until the end of foreclosure, which can take up to 18 months.

"This time around, they're buying a property," Mr. Henson said. "We tried to simplify the process."

A task force of community leaders, real estate agents, bankers and housing experts came up with the latest sale, which will be be held April 23-25 at the Baltimore Convention Center in conjunction with a housing fair.

The city decided to simplify the sale by sticking to its own inventory of abandoned homes and some properties owned by the state and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Prospective buyers will be given a chance to qualify for loans before the auction. Many of the houses on the market will be open for tours the week before the auction.

Some could sell for a few hundred dollars -- a modern version of the homesteading program of two decades ago, when vacant city homes were sold for a dollar.

The city also has changed the bidding procedures.

Last year, intense bidding by in vestors and other prospective owners sent prices soaring. This year, the city is making sure none of the properties is burdened with liens and is promising to line up renovations.

If a boarded-up home costs $60,000 to renovate, for example, and a prospective buyer only bids $40,000, the city will pay the additional $20,000. Housing officials also are negotiating with lending institutions to provide low-interest loans and financing arrangements.

"We think we're learning," said Tom Jaudon, chief of the Homeownership Institute with the Department of Housing and Community Development.

"The [1993 sale] really stirred up the public. But it was a long tedious process. With city houses, it should all be fairly easy and clean."

In last year's tax sale, the city sold the properties without requiring the buyers to assume responsibility for back taxes or for liens for such problems as unpaid water bills or the costs of boarding up vacant houses.

At least 100 of this year's properties will be reserved for homeowners interested in staying in the neighborhood, Mr. Jaudon said.

Baltimore has about 7,000 vacant, aging properties. All but a tiny portion belong to families who have left or landlords who no longer can rent them.

Mr. Jaudon said the city is reducing its overall stock through the auction and an ambitious project to revitalize Sandtown-Winchester.

The city owns half of the 200 blighted properties to be auctioned. The rest have been foreclosed on by federal or state housing agencies. The majority of the rowhouses stand empty; a few are leased.

"We're going to make it much easier for people to actually obtain homes," Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said.

Neighborhood associations have been invited to set up booths at the housing fair, where real estate agents will market other properties.

"The bottom line is it makes these properties accessible to average people," Mr. Henson said. "What a lot of people want is to have a property that's really their property, that they can work on and be proud of."

In the early 1970s, families bought 25 narrow rowhouses on Stirling Street in East Baltimore for $1 each, with the commitment to renovate and live in them. The block still is peaceful and well-kept.

Like those on Stirling Street, the century-old houses in Otterbein near the Inner Harbor were about to be demolished for urban renewal. A lottery for those houses drew hundreds of prospective buyers. Today, Otterbein is a gentrified neighborhood near Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

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