East Baltimore nonprofit group wants to save neighborhoods by buying houses Patterson Park program targets absentee landlords

June 18, 1996|By Erica C. Harrington | Erica C. Harrington,SUN STAFF

In an effort to keep out bad landlords and preserve Patterson Park neighborhoods, a new community corporation plans to buy houses and sell and rent them.

Ed Rutkowski, founder of East Fayette Street Development Corp., hopes the group will slow a problem that he says can hurt an otherwise healthy community.

"The main problem [with absentee landlords] is that they don't live here and they don't know what's going on," said Rutkowski, who also is project director of the Patterson Park Neighborhoods Initiative. "If they get a bad tenant, they have no interest in getting them out. With houses this close together, one bad neighbor can destroy a whole block."

The nonprofit corporation is a spinoff of the Patterson Park Neighborhoods Initiative and was created because the community group cannot own property, Rutkowski said. The initiative promotes home ownership in Southeast Baltimore by offering financial counseling and low-interest mortgages.

The Abell Foundation donated $40,000 for East Fayette's operating costs and agreed to guarantee half of a homeowner's mortgage.

Rutkowski said the corporation will begin buying houses next month with the goal of acquiring 20 to 25 in the next year and a half for rental or sale. The houses cost $10,000 to $25,000 and require rehabilitation costing $5,000 to $35,000. The homes will have mortgages from $30,000 to $50,000.

The group's target is houses in the two blocks surrounding Library Square, which is bordered by Linwood and Luzerne avenues and Fayette and Orleans streets.

East Fayette board President Charles Duff said the corporation will create a niche among groups that deal with housing in Southeast Baltimore, such as the Southeast Community Organization and Neighborhood Housing Services, by concentrating on neighborhoods north of Patterson Park.

"East Fayette can bring focus on a particular place and type of housing," said Duff, president of Jubilee Baltimore, a nonprofit housing development company. "You need separate financing and rehab strategies for rowhouses. This is a separate community with its own ambitions."

Rutkowski said East Fayette potential buyers and renters will undergo a thorough screening, including credit and employment checks and inspection of a potential tenant's previous residence. He said screening is not foolproof, but the presence of the corporation in the community will ensure a quick response to problems.

"Screening on the front end minimizes back-end problems," he said. "Neighbors know where to go to complain, and I'm obligated to do something because I have to live here."

Gayle Nelson, vice president of Patterson Park Properties, a management company, said a relationship between landlord and tenant can alleviate problems.

"If they feel they can call anytime and talk about anything, the better off you are as a property manager," said Nelson, whose company is not affiliated with the initiative or East Fayette. "You have to be flexible and able to embrace differences."

Carol Hartke, president of Patterson Place, a neighborhood association, said she is optimistic East Fayette can have an impact."It's always best to have landlords community-based," she said. "I think this is a neighborhood that encourages responsible renters."

Rutkowski said the difference between East Fayette and other property owners is the profit motive. "We don't have to drive a Mercedes -- I ride a bicycle -- and the extra money we put into the houses," he said. "If you don't try to make a lot of money, you can do a better job on the houses."

Pub Date: 6/18/96

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