Saving money, buying homes Group backing sales in declining areas extends into Balto. Co.

December 30, 1996|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

A year ago, Jeane Fink never thought she'd celebrate this New Year's Day in her own home.

But with help from Neighborhood Housing Services Inc. (NHS), a private, nonprofit loan and counseling group, the single mother of three teen-agers was able to purchase a Baltimore County townhouse she could decorate for the holidays this year.

Fink, 41, is one of 21 new homeowners to benefit from the guidance and financial assistance of NHS of Greater Hillendale, an affiliate that promotes homeownership. The Greater Hillendale Area is the group's first venture in the county.

NHS, which has an office on Taylor Avenue, is working with 81 potential homebuyers.

"It's something I never thought I'd be able to do," said Fink, who rented a nearby house for seven years before she purchased an end unit on Halstead Road in August. "I always wanted my own place."

Fink, a supervisor with an electronic data systems company, said the homeownership group helped her apply to the county Settlement Expense Loan Program for $5,000 to cover closing expenses.

"It shows the interest in the neighborhood," said Jo Ann Holback, NHS neighborhood director. "We're very pleased. But what I'm most proud of is the neighborhoods here. They're really working as hard to make this work as we are."

Composed of several communities, the 40-year-old neighborhood, which has brick rowhouses, Dutch Colonial townhouses, bungalows and apartment complexes, is bounded by Taylor Avenue, Perring Parkway, Loch Raven Boulevard and the city line.

It includes about 1,400 homes, costing between $50,000 and $115,000 each, and 1,800 apartments.

Over the years, the area has been in decline as the number of renters increased, students at the former Hillendale Elementary School performed poorly on state tests and crime increased.

But several efforts are giving new energy to the area, including a new principal and staff at the school -- now a magnet school called Halstead Academy -- more police attention and NHS's housing initiatives.

"It's beginning to turn around," said P. David Fields, director of the county office of community conservation. "NHS is a key player."

Donna Spicer, president of the Towson-Loch Raven Community Council, also praised the housing group. "They are a terrific new piece of the puzzle to help the area," she said.

NHS started in Pittsburgh after the 1968 riots and has grown into a national network of similar revitalization programs in Denver; Cleveland; Chicago; Des Moines, Iowa; and other cities.

By linking residents, business and government, NHS -- which has worked in several Baltimore neighborhoods, including Patterson Park and Coppin Heights, since 1974 -- offers low-interest purchase and rehabilitation loans in addition to counseling to stabilize troubled neighborhoods.

Last month, several financial institutions pledged more than $1.5 million to NHS of Greater Hillendale for below-market financing and closing-cost help.

"What NHS really is doing is assisting people in understanding what the process is and giving them information to make good, sound decisions for themselves," NHS housing counselor Patricia A. Hull said.

She was instrumental in helping Connie Williams, 45, and her fiance, Stephen Swann, 41, buy their first home, a semidetached Cape Cod on Ryewood Road.

"They were really terrific in helping us get that house," said Williams, an artist who paints surrealistic scenes in oils and inks. "The back yard is huge. Now I can paint outside in natural light."

She and Swann, a house painter, took advantage of the loan-settlement program to make their dream come true. "This house is everything we wanted," Williams said. "The neighborhood is so nice and established. It's like being in the suburbs but close to the city."

Location also was a consideration for Virginia Barnett, 41, a custodian at Towson High School who lived with her mother in North Baltimore.

"I always wanted a house in the county," said Barnett, who moved to a townhouse on Kenton Road with her 25-year-old daughter in September, taking advantage of a new tax-credit incentive that allowed her to buy the house.

Under the state-funded pilot program administered by NHS, qualified homebuyers in Hillendale over the next three years will get a 40 percent reduction in property taxes and a matching reduction in state income taxes.

"For first-time homebuyers, it's really good," Barnett said.

She also attended a required two-hour NHS home-buying seminar that offers tips on budgeting, maintenance and financing.

"They make you aware that when you're buying a house, you are like a landlord and have to take care of it yourself," Barnett said.

Added Hull, the NHS counselor, "We're hoping to educate people about what's involved in buying a home. After all, this is a major purchase."

Pub Date: 12/30/96

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