Church selling 5 homes in city St. Paul St. rowhouses offered below market to lure homesteaders

Open for inspection today

Site had been used by Seventh Baptist to shelter needy

November 08, 1998|By Robert Nusgart | Robert Nusgart,SUN REAL ESTATE EDITOR

The once-grand rowhouses that line the 1900 block of St. Paul St. -- just above North Avenue -- have been used as halfway houses, shelters for the homeless and places to stay for those leaving mental health institutions.

The neighborhood's Seventh Baptist Church had used the 10 homes it has owned since the early 1970s to further the church's cause and help those in need. But with a dwindling congregation and shrinking financial resources, the programs run by the church faltered and the homes fell into disrepair.

Last year, half the homes -- by then vacant -- were boarded up.

Now the church, instead of doing a quick sell to investors who would turn the 100-year-old homes into rentals, is taking a page from the homesteading book. It is offering the homes at below-market prices, in hopes of luring homebuyers who in turn could settle and revitalize the area north of Penn Station.

Five homes -- ranging from 3,500 to 7,500 square feet -- have been put on the market. Four of the five are listed at $34,900, according to Melvin Knight, the listing agent for O'Conor, Piper & Flynn ERA. The 7,500-square-foot home -- at 1933 St. Paul -- is listed at $59,900. Knight said the property was appraised in August for $75,500.

"It really is a grand building, but I don't envision a homebuyer paying more than fifty-something for it given what needs to be done to it," Knight said.

"If you paid $35,000 for any of the other ones, a person could -- with some sweat equity -- make it nice for another $30,000 and end up having a really grand upper Charles Village-style house for $65,000." he said.

Knight said the homes fall into the realm of FHA 203(k)-insured mortgages, which allow buyers to make low down payments and borrow additional funds to be used to rehabilitate the properties. In the FHA program, buyers are required to sign an affidavit stating that the property will be owner-occupied. The five properties -- from 1925 to 1933 St. Paul -- will be open to the public today from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

"We talked with the community association and with developers and other interested people in the area," said Gordon Bonham, administrative group leader of Seventh Baptist Church. "Everybody thought the best way to go to bring stability to the community was to bring in homeownership. Have homeowners control the whole block."

Said Knight: "What is really unique, as far as I know, is this is the first time anybody has put on a listing, 'No investors.' Everybody who thinks about restoring a house in an up-and-coming neighborhood, one of their first oppositions to the neighborhood's future is [asking], 'How do I know that I am not going to have a slum landlord next to me?' "

Making the homes owner-occupied ensures that the block will rejuvenate itself, said Knight, who added that the remaining five homes should come on the market in the spring.

"There are homebuyers for the area, but there haven't been many things for sale," Knight said. "Now we have a block where there is a homeownership opportunity and good, beautiful structures, where you know that everyone on the block is going to be a homeowner just like yourself."

Despite the homes' need for renovation, their Queen Anne architecture remains inspiring.

"It is a phenomenal thing," said Charles Smith, director of operations at the Midtown Benefits District Organization and a member of the board of directors of the Charles North Community Association. "I go to St. Mark's [Church] right across the street, and I have been looking at these houses for seven years now, thinking what a phenomenal opportunity this block is going to present.

"When you look up there, it is one of the few surviving rows where the entire block is intact, with the mansard [double-sloped] roof, the slate, the stained glass, the terra-cotta ornamentation on the house," he said.

"The homes are nice on the inside," Smith said. "All of them have their original stairwells, most of their woodwork, their ornamentation, plaster, the whole bit. For someone who enjoys really quality 19th-century craftsmanship, these are incredible bargains."

Said Knight: "To me this is a private urban-renewal effort. It's not costing anybody anything. We are just trying to do the right thing."

Pub Date: 11/08/98

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