Helping hand to homebuyers Subsidies: Buyers who promise to live in their rehabbed houses for 10 years are forgiven millions of dollars in city loans.

December 15, 1997|By John B. O'Donnell and Ronnie Greene | John B. O'Donnell and Ronnie Greene,SUN STAFF

For Barbara Greer, homeownership is a $186,900 dream realized. For James Ward Morrow, it's $84,000. For Michael and Patricia Hannon, $102,000.

As the administration of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke aims to boost the city's homeownership rate to 50 percent, it is providing millions of dollars to thousands of residents to buy and repair houses.

Technically, they are loans, usually ranging from a few thousand dollars to $30,000 -- and sometimes higher. But none has to be repaid if the buyers stay for a specified period.

In most cases, the City Hall subsidies have gone to the working poor, many of them city employees.

To recipients, the big bucks make a difference. When Greer moved to Lanvale Street in Harlem Park in 1983, she noticed a vacant house across the street and, through the plywood-covered doors and windows, saw a new home.

"I always told my children, if I ever win the lottery -- the big lottery -- I'd buy that house," says Greer, 46, a secretary at the state Health Department.

Her chance came 11 years later at a city auction with a $50,000 bid, which she must repay. Initially, repairs were estimated at $80,800, the amount Greer must repay if she doesn't stay in the house for 10 years.

But the house was bigger than planners figured and suffered from "severe deterioration." Eventually, the city spent an extra $106,100 on the house that Greer has no obligation to pay back.

Today, Greer is involved in her neighborhood and doesn't get discouraged that 11 nearby homes are boarded. "This is a dream come true," she said.

Morrow paid $25,000 for his tiny Highlandtown rowhouse at the same 1994 auction. Repairs, initially estimated at $36,000, doubled. He agreed to repay $84,040 if he moves out in less than 10 years.

"This was the only way I could afford to buy a house with my student loans," says the 33-year-old assistant state's attorney. "My student loan payments are much more than my mortgage."

Without city help, "I probably would never have considered living in this neighborhood or in the city," he said. Today, he is a settled-in Highlandtowner, member of the community association board and dispenser of free legal help to neighbors.

The Hannons were popping with pride when they moved into their Belmar house in 1995, and invited Schmoke and Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III to stop by. "It turned out beautifully," Patricia Hannon said.

They paid $71,000 for the three-story frame house, and the city spent about $100,000 for repairs, ripping out drop ceilings to restore the original 9-foot height.

"It was the worst house on the block," said Michael Hannon, 48, a self-employed draftsman.

What would he say if someone questioned the taxpayer gift? After a pause: "It's an excellent opportunity to live in the city."

Pub Date: 12/15/97

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