Disliked sign back in Belair Edison Neighbors criticize return of controversial message

November 25, 1996|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

What's in a name? Plenty, if you ask housing speculator Gary Waicker.

He has recently resurrected an unpopular sign in Belair-Edison that says, We Pay Cash for Houses.

Waicker removed the sign 1 1/2 years ago after neighbors complained that its message was a racial scare tactic to get whites to leave the Northeast Baltimore neighborhood. Now, the sign is up again at Erdman Avenue and Edison Highway.

But Waicker says it isn't intended to bring down the neighborhood. It is simply proclaiming the name of his new company -- which is called We Pay Cash for Houses. State records show that days after Waicker erected the new sign last month, he formed a corporation called We Pay Cash for Houses LLC, a limited liability company.

"I'm advertising the name of my business, just like the Sunpapers does," said Waicker, whose Cavalier Realty Co. Inc. operates from an office near the sign.

Housing activists were angered to hear about the new company, which they say is an apparent attempt to mock the community.

They say that signs offerering fast cash for houses have been a negative signal for decades, alerting longtime homeowners that it may be time to flee the community -- and sell their houses cheaply -- before it goes downhill further. Housing speculators buy houses cheaply, then resell them at a profit or rent to tenants.

"The community finds this sign offensive whether it's a description of what Gary Waicker does or the newest paper company in his real estate speculation chain," said Barbara Aylesworth, director of Belair-Edison Housing Services, a nonprofit group trying to maintain the community's racial balance and increase homeownership.

"I think any of those real estate practices that imply fast cash for houses help to create a panic environment. You look at the kind of money being paid for houses. They're way below market," she said.

At Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc., which has fought racial discrimination in housing for nearly four decades, Associate Director Martin A. Dyer said Waicker's new sign "is absolutely despicable. To name a corporation We Pay Cash for Houses is the worst I have encountered."

Signs like Waicker's began to crop up elsewhere in the city this year.

In the spring, in Ednor Gardens near Memorial Stadium and in the Hillen Road neighborhood to the north, a real estate company called Lucky Realty Homes Inc. began attaching small signs to its regular for-sale signs in front of homes. They read, "We Buy Homes. All Cash 'As Is' -- Quick."

"It made us think of the blockbusting techniques of the earlier years, and it encourages other people to sell their houses and disinvest in our neighborhood," said Barbara Ruland, first vice president of Ednor Gardens-Lakeside Civic Association.

In June, Ruland complained to the Maryland Real Estate Commission about the signs. The commission put Lucky owner M. Arnold Politzer on notice that the signs might violate state law. Politzer responded by removing the signs and writing a letter of apology to the community.

But Politzer said his signs were not intended as a racial scare tactic.

"The last thing in my mind was that I would be causing concern on the part of the neighborhoods. If anything, I thought they would welcome us with open arms," he said.

In Belair-Edison, community leaders have not found Waicker to be as responsive to their concerns.

"I think it's ridiculous," Waicker said of the community's complaints. "I wish they would give me a break. I'm trying to make a living."

Pub Date: 11/25/96

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