Hungry to buy homes in city

Hundreds seek data on Sandtown plans

August 29, 1999|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

As a $100 million urban renewal effort continues, Sandtown-Winchester remains a 72-block community of contrasts.

More than 300 people live in new or renovated homes with many of the amenities of suburban living. But more important than their mud rooms and manicured lawns is the community pride that comes with ownership, many homeowners said.

The homeowners' desire to plant front-yard flower gardens or -- before the drought -- to scrub and wash brick facades, has left neighbors in nearby crumbling rowhouses desperate for the same chance to start anew.

"How come everyone else gets out, but I've got to stay here?" Teresa Stewart asked as she leaned out of the window of her cramped third-floor apartment in the 1100 block of N. Calhoun St., one of the few structures there that will not be razed.

Stewart and hundreds of others had the opportunity yesterday to learn how to own a piece of the nationally recognized Sandtown-Winchester redevelopment project when city and community leaders held a homebuyers workshop at a community center on North Mount Street.

Part of renewal

Part of the city's effort to increase home ownership, the seminar offered homebuyers mortgage information, home-ownership advice and details on how to buy one of 332 Sandtown-Winchester homes to be built in the next two years.

"I'm tired of renting; I want my own house," said Joyce Fitch, who has rented for 30 years. "When I buy my house, I will have pride and take care of my block."

The participants yesterday, predominantly single mothers -- ranging from a 21-year-old social worker who wants to be the first homebuyer in her family to a 40-year-old school cafeteria worker eager to leave her ant-infested apartment -- walked through Sandtown-Winchester's streets for a look at the American dream.

The homes, valued from $66,000 to $100,000, will be sold for about $44,000.

Potential buyers must have low-to-moderate incomes and make at least at least $13,500 a year.

Officials expect the homes to sell quickly, and point to previous developments such as the Nehemiah Development, a six-square-block community of two-story town homes between the 1200 blocks of N. Gilmor and N. Carey streets, where 272 homes were sold months before they were completed in 1991.

"People can't wait until ground-breaking and say, `Can I have a key?' " said Luvon A. Dungee, a housing counselor at the Sandtown-Winchester Community Development Corporation.

In the latest phase of a major redevelopment project started in the late 1980s, 25 homes have been renovated and are for sale in the 1100 blocks of N. Stricker St., N. Mount St., and N. Fulton Ave. Dozens of other homes in neighboring blocks are undergoing renovation and should be available this year.

Most of the housing construction will be in the 1100 block of N. Calhoun St.

The block is lined with 120 three-story, red-brick rowhouses that will be torn down within six weeks to make way for Sandtown-Winchester Square.

It will contain 60 duplexes, more trees and grass, and Victorian-style lampposts. Construction is due to be finished in early 2001.

"I'm happy to get the heck out of this house," said Kaisha D. King, 23, who moved out of Calhoun Street to make way for the demolition.

"The plans look nice -- maybe the neighborhood will get better."

King would like to return to the block as a homeowner, but she doubts she could afford the wall-to-wall carpeting, garbage disposal, lawn sprinklers and vinyl kitchen floor that will be standard.

Payment plans

Officials of the Sandtown-Winchester project disagree.

Backed by the neighborhood's 1997 designation as a federal Homeownership Zone, which brought $30 million from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to support the project, officials said the homes will be affordable.

Qualified first-time homebuyers able to put down $1,000 will receive a 30-year, $44,000 mortgage at 5 percent interest.

Because developers must get full price for the average $66,000 home, the rest of the money will be paid out of a Community Development Block Grant.

If the new homeowner remains in the property for 10 years, the grant will not have to be repaid.

Most of the people who toured homes yesterday -- amid the chatter of drug dealers and a-rabs promoting their respective products -- said they would not be able to afford the homes without financial help.

"I'm tired of my leaking ceilings, holes in the floor and pest problems," said April D. Goodman, who earns $12,000 a year as a city school cafeteria worker and has rented for 35 years. "This is my chance to get out."

The Sandtown-Winchester initiative is a joint venture of the city, several community development groups and the Enterprise Foundation, a nonprofit organization begun in 1982 by Baltimore developer James W. Rouse.

Hopes for increases

During the next 10 years, the coalition hopes to increase Sandtown-Winchester's home ownership rate from 30 percent to 60 percent.

"With ownership, the community stabilizes, and the city gets a stable tax base," said John A. Brown, deputy director of the Neighborhood Development Center, one of the groups behind the ownership drive.

Pub Date: 8/29/99

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