County hopes to create new batch of homeowners

Affordable housing initiative is launched

Anne Arundel

March 30, 2001|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

Linda Booth figures she could have bought five or six houses with all of the rent money she has paid over the years. Today, the assistant manager at a beauty supply company owns a two-bedroom townhouse on Fourth Street in Brooklyn Park.

Her jump from renter to owner happened three years ago, courtesy of a state program that gave her access to a 4 percent mortgage. Since then, Booth, 51, has put down a shiny new vinyl floor, installed a ceiling fan in the dining room and stenciled yellow sunflowers on the kitchen wall.

Owning a home has "changed my life completely," she said yesterday. "It gives you an incentive to do things with your home, because it's your home."

Now, county leaders hope a fresh infusion of $1 million for low-interest home loans from another program, the HotSpot Homeownership Initiative, will create a new batch of owners in nearby Brooklyn Heights. That area has been troubled in recent years by drugs, run-down rental properties and prostitution.

"A lot of landlord properties are rented week to week," said County Councilwoman Pamela G. Beidle, a Linthicum Democrat who represents northern Anne Arundel County.

"There are a lot of transient situations. Quite frankly, there is a lot of drug use and instability. [Park Elementary School] flips almost 50 percent from September to June," Beidle said.

Under the state's HotSpot program, the county is offering 5 percent, 30-year-fixed mortgages to first-time homebuyers and others who have not owned a home in at least three years, County Executive Janet S. Owens announced yesterday. That is about 2 percentage points below current market rates.

Another program, the nonprofit Arundel Community Development Services Inc., has money to cover closing costs such as a down payment, which work out to 6 percent or 7 percent of the purchase price. That money must be repaid upon sale of the house.

"By putting closing costs together with low-cost mortgage money, we're making more units affordable," said Kathleen Koch, the nonprofit group's executive director. "And there is demand for more affordable units."

To qualify for the HotSpot program, applicants must have household incomes of less than $77,000 and homeownership counseling. The program is restricted to the 1,619 units - rowhouses, duplexes and single-family houses - within the Brooklyn Heights HotSpot boundaries.

Owens also announced that the county has also received $44,000 from the state to assist Brooklyn Heights teen-agers who have dropped out of school and committed minor crimes.

The program, which aims to help them complete their high school education, is being run by county police and Anne Arundel Community College.

The two initiatives represent the latest attempt to revive the once-thriving area. Two years ago, Brooklyn Heights was designated a HotSpot, which meant extra money for law enforcement, zoning inspection and other community improvement services.

"I know from my HotSpot team and citizens up there that there is a sense things are improving," Owens said. "This $1 million will give us the impetus to further stabilize the area."

Koch said a normally "unheard of" 5 percent mortgage can shave more than a hundred dollars off a buyer's monthly payment.

For a house worth $115,000, a 30-year mortgage at 7 percent interest translates to payments of $765 a month, she said. For someone buying the same house but with a 5 percent mortgage, the monthly payment would drop to $617 - $148 less - for the life of the loan.

"That makes a big difference," Koch said.

Booth used a low-interest loan and assistance with closing costs to buy her house for $57,000, even though she was then making $6.80 an hour. Her monthly payment is about $370, less than it would cost to rent a similar house.

"It was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be to get me into a house," she said.

The availability of low-interest mortgages does not guarantee a spate of home buying. Last year, the state made mortgage money available to the county's other HotSpot, in the Pioneer Drive area. But Koch said that has not been successful.

Koch is more optimistic about the response in Brooklyn Heights, because "people who live there are so active in their community."

Information: Arundel Community Development Services, 410-222-7600.

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