Jewish congregation to provide low-income housing

October 18, 1994|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Sun Staff Writer

The Columbia Jewish Congregation is looking for a home -- not for its congregants, but for lower-income county residents who can't afford to buy one on the open market in Howard.

The congregation has formed a nonprofit corporation to purchase older homes with the help of government subsidies and private low-interest loans, make cosmetic repairs and eventually sell the homes to tenants with incomes of about $27,000 to $35,000.

The congregation launched the program by buying two townhouses this summer in the Jeffers Hill section of Long Reach village, both for just less than $100,000.

"We hope this will be an opportunity for many other organizations to get involved in the field of providing housing in a personal and cost-effective way for those who otherwise couldn't afford to live in the community," said Rabbi Martin Siegel.

The median household income in the county is $54,000, according to the 1990 census.

Leonard Vaughan, administrator of the county Office of Housing and Community Development, said the program is distinctive in that it aims not only to help residents who can't afford to buy, but to strengthen neighborhoods in danger of falling into disrepair.

The congregation wants to buy homes that are at least 15 to 20 years old in neighborhoods characterized by a high percentage of rental units and absentee landlords, said Joel Barry Brown, a private real estate developer and a leader of the congregation's program.

Mr. Brown represents the congregation on the board of Light Street Housing, an organization that aims to create affordable housing in South Baltimore.

"From that, we thought there's certainly a need in Howard County, that we ought to try to do something where we live," Mr. Brown said.

One of the Jeffers Hill townhouses has tenants, and the congregation is working with county housing agencies to find eligible tenants for the other. Ideally, tenants will pay rent only as long as it takes to go through qualifying procedures and settle on purchase arrangements, congregation leaders said.

Tenants will not have to come up with down payments or other upfront closing costs -- which could range from $15,000 to $25,000 on the open market -- and monthly mortgage payments probably will be less than rents charged by absentee landlords, Mr. Brown said.

A combination of county and state financing programs and a low-interest loan from the Baltimore Regional Redevelopment Corp. allows the congregation to arrange mortgages with low interest rates, he said.

"They're not being given the gift of a house. They're paying the mortgage and the upkeep," said Michael Meyerson, a congregation member and attorney who helped establish the congregation's housing corporation.

The congregation plans to build its program slowly. "If we're not successful with our first two to three units, there won't be a fourth, so we were very careful with the units we purchased," Mr. Brown said.

The congregation's housing group has been working with Churches Concerned for the Homeless Inc., a coalition of churches, and hopes to join forces with more ecumenical groups, Mr. Brown said.

Mr. Vaughan encourages the participation of volunteer groups in addressing the county's affordable-housing problem, saying government is limited in its ability to provide financing and support services.

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