Plan unveiled to boost homeownership Tax breaks, grants meant to encourage move to city

February 12, 1997|By William E. Thompson Jr. | William E. Thompson Jr.,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

In an effort to improve the quality of life in Baltimore, Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III yesterday unveiled a 10-point plan designed to increase homeownership in the city.

The initiative -- which includes some existing programs -- provides grants, tax breaks and other incentives to city employees and others to bolster home sales among all income groups in all areas of the city, Henson said. It also seeks to entice those not living in Baltimore to become city dwellers.

"Homeownership is the lifeblood of a city," Henson said. "And Baltimore has always been a homeownership city." He said 49 percent of the 276,484 residences citywide are owner-occupied, according to the 1990 census.

Henson added that increasing the number of homeowners would benefit community involvement and "improve the quality and the civility" of city life.

Much of the plan's incentives are geared toward employees of the city, public housing residents who want to own their homes and employees of city-based businesses. There are tax benefits for current homeowners.

For example, the City Employees' Home-Buying Incentive Program provides those eligible with up to $5,000 to meet closing costs or to make down payments. The 2-year-old program has helped 213 city employees purchase homes, Henson said.

According to a housing department statement, another plan for city employees, the Public Safety and Home-Buying Incentive Program, focuses on the areas around Ashburton Elementary School on Hilton Road, which will become an elementary-middle school in September. According to the plan, 150 city employees -- 50 policemen, 50 firemen and 50 from other departments -- each could receive a $5,000 grant to help purchase a home priced in the $70,000-to-$100,000 range in the Calloway-Garrison, Ashburton and West Arlington communities.

Bert J. Hash, Jr., president of the Municipal Employees Credit Union, said the credit union would offer its members below-market rates for mortgages as an incentive to participate in the program.

Henson also said current inhabitants of 280 public housing units scattered around the city will be offered a chance to buy the units they now live in. To qualify, those residents must show a stable employment history and have an annual income of at least $10,000. They also will receive "extensive" counseling on home ownership, he said.

The city also has set aside $2 million over the next two years to provide grants for settlement costs for those who buy in an Empowerment Zone.

The ultimate goal, Henson said, is "to create homeowners who want to be homeowners."

Henson said larger, city-based businesses also were being recruited in a partnership program to give their employees incentives for moving closer to work. This program is a three-way partnership among the city, the state and the individual's employer. The city will pay those employees who move to the city $1,000, which will be matched by the state. The business will likewise pay $1,000, although they could offer more than that, Henson said.

Henson's plan also revealed a variety of tax credits to blunt the impact of city property taxes.

Pub Date: 2/12/97

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