Nehemiah's vision Third project: Old Testament visionary inspires inner city rebuilding in Baltimore.

January 07, 1996

THE OLD TESTAMENT tells us of Nehemiah, the prophet who fought widespread skepticism and led the rebuilding of Jerusalem after its destruction. A couple of thousand years later, that story is providing inspiration in Baltimore.

The first Nehemiah project, begun in 1987 under the leadership of the Enterprise Foundation, resulted in the construction of 300 new homes -- mostly for low-income homeownership -- in West Baltimore's Sandtown-Winchester and Penn-North neighborhoods. That was followed by 28 homes built in Cherry Hill.

The third Nehemiah, a project of 150 newly constructed and rehabilitated homes in the eastside communities of Oliver, Old Town and Johnston Square, is now becoming a reality. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke recently presented the keys to the first %J homeowners, some of whom were able to buy heavily subsidized $39,900 townhouses with a $650 down payment and monthly installments of $325.

Lucy Johnson, 46, was among the first homebuyers able to realize their dreams. For her and her 15-year-old son, Steven, it is not only the first home they will own but a move out of the Latrobe Homes public housing project.

"City residents are given the help that they need to ensure their neighborhood's growth," said Mr. Schmoke. "Through home ownership opportunities such as this, these residents can also contribute to their community's stability."

Over the years, the city, in cooperation with the federal and state governments, has sunk millions of dollars to give a face-lift to the area around Harford Road and Biddle Street. Yet one does not have to go but a couple of blocks away to see further deterioration.

A battle may have been won in East Baltimore, but the fight


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