Once-abandoned house becomes dream home

Project Lazarus fixes properties, sells at cost

June 07, 1999|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

Shirley Crawford smiled as a swarm of family and friends dressed in their Sunday best congratulated the 57-year-old grandmother on the purchase of her first home.

"This is great," said Crawford, who for the past 20 years has lived in an apartment. "Everything in it is new. I'm grateful I have a new home."

Five months ago, the brick rowhouse in the 200 block of N. Chester St. in East Baltimore was abandoned and filled with trash, old mattresses, discarded drug needles. Yesterday, guests marveled at the peach-painted facade, sparkling kitchen counter tops and wood cabinets. The house smelled of fresh paint and glue.

"This was a dream of hers," said Wade Sanders, 34, one of Crawford's six children. "She's wanted this for a long time."

The rowhouse was purchased and refurbished by a nonprofit housing redevelopment group for about $44,000 and then sold to Crawford just below cost.

The group, Project Lazarus -- an arm of The Door Inc., a nonprofit organization -- purchases and rebuilds houses and then selects qualified residents to take over the mortgages.

Officials with Project Lazarus go to area churches and ask if any couples or families living in poor conditions need homes. Church leaders sponsor the applicants, who write a one-page essay explaining why they want the house.

Project Lazarus received three applications for the home on Chester Street now owned by Crawford.

Since its creation two years ago, Project Lazarus has rebuilt one rowhouse down the street from Crawford's and a transitional house for the homeless at North Caroline and East Eager streets. Another transitional home and a rowhouse are under construction in the Chester Street area.

Those homes are rebuilt mostly by ex-convicts and recovering drug addicts who are recruited from the city's streets and paid between $6 and $12 an hour, said Jim Davenport, executive director of The Door.

The crew that rebuilt Crawford's house battled a number of construction problems, said Robert Beauford, executive director of Project Lazarus.

"We went against termites, water damage, rats -- and we got a home," Beauford said.

One of the workers, Gregory Johnson, 34, was hired by Beauford in January. Looking at Crawford's future home then, Johnson said he was skeptical.

"I thought this was going to take at least a year," Johnson said. "But everybody pitched in, and we got it finished."

The Door -- an outreach organization that also offers after-school programs, football for young boys, a summer camp and family counseling -- receives its funding from donations and private grants, Davenport said.

He said he hoped to buy more rowhouses next door and down the street from Crawford's home, most of them city-owned.

The targeted houses are now boarded and filled with trash.

"We're trying to buy board-up houses in the community and make them homes," Davenport said.

Pub Date: 6/07/99

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