A first house found in one's childhood neighborhood Fresh start commences with area's revitalization

Dream Home

July 07, 1996|By Karin Remesch | Karin Remesch,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Walking up the white marble steps leading into the vestibule of the century-old, three-story brick home on Harlem Avenue near Lafayette Square, it's hard to imagine that four years ago the house was a boarded-up shell.

"When I first saw the house, there was only the front wall, two partial side walls, no roof, no back wall and the inside was nothing but a gaping hole," Ingrid Ward said, "but still, I could see the house had potential and I knew the search for my first home had come to an end."

And, she added, buying the house in the neighborhood where she grew up was like a homecoming.

Widowed at age 24, Ward and her two children lived in apartments in Baltimore County for 20 years. She said she often thought about buying a home, but didn't think she could afford one, raising the children on her own and going back to college to pursue a degree in sociology.

"The thought of being committed to mortgage payments was too frightening," said Ward, 48.

Then she attended a free counseling seminar for first-time homebuyers interested in purchasing a home in a city neighborhood targeted for revitalization, and learned that owning home could indeed be a reality.

Members of the St. Pius V Housing Committee, a nonprofit community housing organization, helped guide Ward through the process.

After months of watching her home being rebuilt, Ward moved into her new house with a historic facade in September 1992. The front brick wall and vestibule are the only original parts left of the house that was built in the late 1800s, Ward explained.

"Everything else is brand new," she added, pointing to 16-foot-high cream-colored walls in the living room and tall, double-pane windows decorated with flowered valances. A hallway leads to a brightly lighted eat-in kitchen with modern wooden cabinets and new appliances. From the kitchen, it's a few steps up to a dining room decorated with furniture purchased at a secondhand store.

"Most of my furniture was bought secondhand," said Ward, an income maintenance specialist for the Department of Social Services. "I love antiques and it's amazing what you can find out there for practically nothing as long as you don't mind restoring it."

The new-looking wingback chair in the living room was rescued from a trash bin and reupholstered in blue velvet.

Two sets of carpeted stairs lead to the second floor of the approximately 2,200-square-foot home. A large, high-ceilinged bedroom takes up the front half of the 41 1/2 -foot-long house. The pine bedroom set was newly purchased, but the Victorian sofa, with its ornate wooden frame sitting under three tall windows, was discovered at a Salvation Army store.

Also on the second floor are a back bedroom, full bathroom and laundry room. Two more bedrooms and a second bathroom are on the third floor. The house is centrally air-conditioned and has a security alarm system.

Ward feels like a pioneer in a neighborhood that's being revitalized. A thriving upper-middle class neighborhood until the 1950s, the area virtually turned into a boarded-up ghost town when residents migrated to the suburbs. The area has been designated a federal Empowerment Zone and is being rehabilitated.

Ward said no one should fear buying a house. As a social worker, she often meets people who are paying $400 a month for small apartments. "They can buy a house and their mortgage won't be higher than that," she said.

Ward purchased her house for $90,000 and, with a 4 percent interest loan, her payments are $398 a month. With federal, state and city subsidies, she will only have to repay two-thirds of her mortgage if she lives in her house for 10 years.

"It's available to everyone," Ward said. "If we can put a family into every boarded-up home, we can rehabilitate the city. " Let's do it one house at a time, one street at a time -- it's a whole new sense of renewal."

Pub Date: 7/07/96

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