Buying stability Patterson Park: Community corporation plans to acquire houses, screen occupants.

June 24, 1996

AMONG EAST Baltimore's human treasures is Ed Rutkowski, a man who seems totally consumed with figuring out how to save his community from deterioration. Shifting between optimism and pessimism, he keeps writing letters, plans and grant applications as the project director of the Patterson Park Neighborhoods Initiative. He has now founded East Fayette Street Community Development Corp. to acquire 20-25 houses north of the park, rehabilitate them and sell them to homeowners or rent them to screened tenants.

This is an old idea that has worked before.

In a 1950s program that drew nationwide attention and emulation, Baltimore's privately run Bolton Hill Inc. bought 15 rundown properties, repaired them and sold them to "reputable owners." In Brooklyn, N.Y., the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corp. used a similar revolving mortgage pool to rescue blocks of brownstones in Clinton Hill.

The successful Bolton Hill program was discontinued after governmental urban renewal programs seemed to make it redundant. Some residents now wish it had been kept going.

More recently, many neighborhood activists, including Mr. Rutkowski, have come to believe that heavily bureaucratic governmental programs are not the answer. Instead, they favor direct neighborhood intervention. In many cases, that is easier to talk about than to do.

In Library Square, a two-block area bordered by Linwood and Luzerne avenues and Fayette and Orleans street, key ingredients for success seem to be in place. Acquisition costs are low and not expected to rise above $25,000 per unit. And since most houses are basically sound, initial rehabilitation costs should also stay modest, permitting sales prices of no-frills homes in the $50,000-range or below.

To get the program going next month, the Abell Foundation is covering $40,000 in initial costs. Three neighborhood savings and loan institutions are providing flexible financing.

Library Square is a highly visible area but small enough to be manageable. East Fayette Street Development Corp.'s efforts there will be watched closely by other city neighborhoods which are trying to find workable ways to shore up homeownership and give renters a stake in their communities.

Pub Date: 6/24/96

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