13 houses saved for neighbors

April 21, 1994|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Joan Jacobson contributed to this article.

Succumbing to community pressure, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke yesterday removed 13 abandoned houses in the South Baltimore from a list of vacant homes scheduled to be sold during a city auction this weekend.

The mayor took the houses off the auction list at the insistence of Sharp-Leadenhall community leaders -- actually, three polite, graying women -- who came to the Board of Estimates yesterday to personally press their case.

They told the mayor that the city should fulfill a decades-old promise to ensure that long-time Sharp-Leadenhall residents be given an opportunity to buy homes in the community, which has grown more gentrified and less affordable in the past 20 years.

"These are the last blocks in the Inner Harbor area where the Sharp-Leadenhall people felt they would own anything," said Council President Mary Pat Clarke, who pushed to have the homes removed from the auction list.

Bettye BaCote, executive director of the Sharp-Leadenhall Planning Committee Inc., told Mr. Schmoke that if the homes went to auction they probably would not be purchased by current Sharp-Leadenhall residents.

"If the homes were to go through the auction process, it would preclude people in our neighborhood who find this a very sophisticated and forbidding process," Ms. BaCote said.

The mayor decided to remove the homes from the auction list despite pleas from officials with the city's Department of Housing and Community Development, who felt that the homes -- many of which have been vacant for decades -- would be renovated quickly if they went to auction.

In the auction, which is set for April 23-25, the price of each home will include the cost of renovation. All repairs will be completed before closing and before owners move in.

NationsBank will offer 30-year financing to qualified successful bidders. And financing will include the entire cost of renovation. Also, the city will provide "gap" financing for the amount of the purchase price that exceeds the appraised value.

Moving the homes from vacancy to renovation could be cumbersome, however.

"I hope I'm wrong, but it could take a year for a developer to just line up financing for those homes," said David W. Elam, HCD's development director.

Despite those misgivings, Mr. Schmoke directed HCD to develop a sales process that "is structured by the Sharp-Leadenhall Association," a declaration that brought applause from the community leaders.

The houses in dispute were part of a city plan to rehabilitate them with federal money, and mark down the sale prices so low-to-moderate-income people could buy them.

Five years ago, the city's housing department set aside $640,000 in federal funds for the project -- whose plans date to the 1970s -- but never spent the money. Community leaders blamed the city housing officials for dragging their feet, and the money was eventually spent elsewhere.

Last year, housing officials said the rehabilitation would begin shortly and the houses would be finished in a year. But this week, Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III said rehabilitation of the houses was stalled because other federal funds needed to augment the project fell through.

"So it's been 20 years since this was talked about. It's been 20 years of the city lying to us," said Mae Ringgold, president of the Sharp-Leadenhall group. "But now, we're going to make this happen."

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