Baltimore Co. to offer loans for homes as way to revive 4 older neighborhoods

November 20, 1994|By Ed Brandt | Ed Brandt,Sun Staff Writer

At the urging of community groups, Baltimore County is beginning a program to increase home ownership in certain aging neighborhoods.

The county will use about $1.2 million in federal grant money to lend first-time homebuyers as much as $5,000 toward settlement costs in four older areas. These areas gradually have been depopulated by economic decline and a steady loss of senior citizens.

"This is a very much needed program," said Frank W. Welsh, director of the county Department of Community Development. "It will help revitalize and stabilize these neighborhoods and bring future taxpayers to the county."

The neighborhoods are Dundalk, Essex-Middle River, Randallstown-Woodlawn and Lansdowne-Baltimore Highlands.

The settlement loans will be interest-free for five years, and will begin to accrue interest obligation at 3 percent after that. In most cases, the loans will be excused if the homebuyer stays in the home for 15 years.

The programs in each area will be operated by nonprofit $H community groups. These groups will be responsible for counseling potential homebuyers, determining eligibility and processing settlement cost applications.

They will work with lenders to help buyers get loans. Counselors will advise homebuyers how to acquire low-interest loans for rehabilitation of deteriorated property.

Each community group will receive about $300,000 for settlement costs and some staffing expense.

The groups now are holding workshops, and soon will begin accepting applications. The first settlements are expected in February or March.

"We'll continue the program as long as money is available," Mr. Welsh said. "It's actually far from a county program. The groups asked us for help to start with, but they expect to raise money from other sources to expand it."

Amy Johanson, who is coordinating the program for the Department of Community Development, said the first phase of the program is expected to help 60 families in each area to purchase homes.

"It's open to anyone who has the income to qualify for a mortgage," she said.

There are income limitations. For example, a family of four becomes ineligible if it earns more than $39,500 a year.

"There's been a decline in home ownership in these areas because of the aging population," Ms. Johanson said. "Many seniors have their homes on the market as they consider moving to rest homes or apartments, and there are numerous estate sales.

"We want to emphasize that the homebuyer has to go through an education program, and that we are also interested in promotion of these communities as a nice place to live. The settlement money is a side benefit."

Pat Winter, executive director of the Eastern Baltimore Area Chamber of Commerce, which includes Dundalk, said some real estate agents talked to her about a year ago about the number of houses for sale and the long time they had been on the market.

"There was a potential for investor buying which would turn the homes into rental property," Ms. Winter said. They didn't consider this a healthy trend, she said.

"We want to market Dundalk as a safe, quality, stable community," she said.

Some housing in Dundalk goes back to 1919. Other building surges occurred during World War II and the Korean War as nearby industries geared up.

"Now technology has changed the number of employees needed in those industries, and the population has aged and dispersed," Ms. Winter said.

Dale McArdle, director of Housing Services for Associated Catholic Charities, in charge of the Lansdowne-Baltimore Highlands program, was an initiator of the effort.

"I talked to Community Development about a year ago, and they were very supportive of the homebuyer idea," Mr. McArdle said. "It's a good program."

Kathleen McDonald, president of the Community Building Group, which will operate the program in Essex-Middle River, said, "We also want to help convert some tenants into homeowners. I love the idea. It's a good use of money."

All four organizations are about ready to receive applications. For information, call these numbers:

Dundalk, Ms. Winter, Eastern Baltimore Area Chamber of Commerce, 631-9090; Essex-Middle River, Ms. McDonald, Community Building Group, 659-0832; Randallstown-Woodlawn, Barry Schleifer, Liberty-Randallstown Coalition, 521-5551; and Lansdowne-Baltimore Highlands, Mr. McArdle, Associated Catholic Charities, 547-5544.

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