County effort to urge homeownership $120,000 program aimed at Essex, Middle River

August 30, 1996|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

Taking aim at neighborhoods glutted with rental properties, Baltimore County will announce today a $120,000 pilot program designed to encourage homeownership in Essex and Middle River.

The target areas are Hawthorne, Middlesex and Foxridge, communities of brick row homes started in the late 1950s and early '60s.

"We want to encourage people to take a second look at these neighborhoods, people who would normally bypass them," Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat, said yesterday. "Our hope is to make them more marketable in the general real estate market."

County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III called the program a "new tool that will make a valuable contribution to the ongoing revival of eastern Baltimore County." Officials said they have agreed to fund the homeownership incentive program with funds from the Office of Community Conservation.

The communities of Essex and Middle River have a combined population of more than 64,500. Nearly 13 percent are 65 and older; 25 percent are 17 or younger.

And 45 percent of the housing is renter-occupied, either in the more than 30 apartment complexes or in properties purchased by real estate speculators.

While community leaders welcomed the new program yesterday, some wondered whether such government intervention would matter in the long run.

"It's a finger in the dike," said Tom Rzepnicki, former president of the Foxridge Community Association.

Rzepnicki has resided in Foxridge eight years; his three children attend local schools. He says his neighborhood has deteriorated as homeowners flee to other counties such as Harford and Carroll.

"We have a neighborhood of about 20 percent renters and the poverty level has increased tremendously," he said. "In one of the elementary schools, [a high percentage] of the children are on the free lunch program."

"We are getting a lot more renters into the neighborhood, more houses are going up for sale but mostly get rented," added Brian Brocki, president of the Middlesex Civic Association. "Many renters don't feel responsible and destroy the homes."

Of the pilot program, he said, "I'm all for it, if it works."

Home loans of $3,000 will be offered to families with incomes at or below 110 percent of the area median -- $57,200 for a family of four. According to the program, the loan will be forgiven after the purchaser occupies the property for five years.

An interest rate of 5 percent will accrue during the first year of the loan. Principal and interest will be payable in full if the property is sold, transferred or vacated before the five-year minimum occupancy period expires.

Loans, which can be used to supplement down payments or closing costs, will be made available to qualified applicants at settlement.

The Essex-Middle River Chamber of Commerce will help to coordinate the program.

Edward Ziegenfuss, executive director of the chamber, said he was enthusiastic about the program "because it can make for more stable neighborhoods." But, he added, "it's a little young to make a full evaluation yet."

Pub Date: 8/30/96

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