Baltimore to get U.S. aid in fostering homeownership Reaching Out

April 03, 1994|By Ellen James Martin | Ellen James Martin,Sun Staff Writer

Once it was unimaginable to Dana Kirby that she might own her own house -- until February when the Johns Hopkins health care worker bought a place of her own, a royal blue rowhouse in the West Baltimore neighborhood of Sandtown.

"I was so surprised when I got my [loan] application approved," she said.

No one in Ms. Kirby's family ever bought a house before, she said. And in Murphy Homes, the housing project where she grew up, most are skeptical about their chances to buy. They think the financial hurdles are too high.

But Ms. Kirby happened upon a homebuyer-counseling program and found out differently. After learning the ropes, the 22-year-old single mother moved from a crowded apartment into a 3-bedroom house with a large country kitchen and a fenced back yard where her two children can play.

"The kids love it. They love to run up and down the stairs. And every time someone comes to the door, they shout, 'Come in. This is my house. This is my yard,' " she said.

Fannie Mae, or the Federal National Mortgage Association, wants to get more people like Ms. Kirby -- renters, especially blacks and other minorities -- into homes.

The giant public corporation, which buys and sells billions of dollars of mortgages a year and helps set guidelines for mortgage applications, will start a six-week advertising campaign tomorrow to reach out to renters in disadvantaged areas and encourage them to buy homes.

Through its "Showing America a New Way Home" program, Fannie Mae plans to increase the number of home loans it buys in disadvantaged areas -- from $850 billion to $1 trillion in total loans from now to 2000. The money is intended for people whose incomes fall below the median for their area and for others who face difficulty getting mortgages: immigrants, minorities, the disabled and those who reside in poor neighborhoods.

Key elements of the program will help renters over the biggest barrier to ownership: a lack of knowledge on how to navigate the home-buying system.

The program includes:

* A national advertising campaign, called "Opening Doors for Every American," will seek to reach at least 5 million rental households through television, radio and print advertising as well as direct mail;

* A "HomePath Initiative" will seek to reduce mortgage rejections through a series of second and third reviews of rejected applications. This program will also help build up homebuyer-counseling programs already in operation in Baltimore and other cities;

* Training programs for mortgage underwriters, those who make final decisions on home loans;

* A pilot program, totaling $5 billion, to fund new types of mortgage loans that will encourage homeownership among low- and moderate-income families, central city and rural residents, and people with special housing needs.

Baltimore is one of 12 cities to be involved in the ad campaign. In addition, Fannie Mae has already begun expanding training seminars for counselors and lenders.

"I'm delighted to hear that Fannie Mae is coming in a big way to Baltimore," said Vincent Quayle, director of the St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, the city's oldest nonprofit housing group.

Although several special mortgage programs are available to serve low-income city residents, many who are qualified remain intimidated by the home-buying process, Mr. Quayle said. That means outreach programs are essential, he said.

Because they lack family traditions of homeownership, many residents of low-income communities simply don't realize they're qualified to buy a house, said Alfred Washington, 55, who bought his first home in 1992, in Gardenville.

"It's the way people are taught, the way they think that holds them back," Mr. Washington said. "You've got to get their self-esteem up so they know it doesn't take a fortune to buy a house."

Having lived in public rental housing in Cherry Hill nearly his entire adult life, Mr. Washington, foreman for a die and gasket company, said he never seriously considered buying until 1992. That was the day he returned to the rowhouse he rented and took a hard look at the housing project.

"It almost looked like some Army camp that went to pot," he said of the housing project, where he and his wife, Lillian, were paying $689 a month.

With the help of two homeownership counselors and a real estate agent, the couple bought a white frame Cape Cod for $72,000. Monthly payments on the detached property come to $733 month.

"I'm still in reverse sticker shock," said Mr. Washington, noting that the couple's payments on the house, after taxes, are about the same as their rent, while his lifestyle has drastically changed for the better.

Included in the two-bedroom property are a front porch, a finished basement with a pool table and a large fenced yard where he's anxious to get his spring plantings started.

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