Old neighborhoods getting new life

Houses: Funding is renewed for a program that uses grants to draw homebuyers to the Old Town Westminster district.

January 05, 2004|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

They stripped the decades-old wallpaper in the dining room and repainted the walls yellow, took the paper down in the living room and replaced it with textured paint meant to look like granite. In the master bedroom, they ripped out the carpet to expose the hardwood floors.

Chris Killinger and his wife, Emily, both 25, have been busy fixing up a circa-1940s bungalow-style house in the Pennsylvania Avenue area of Westminster. With the help of a city government program designed to encourage investment in older neighborhoods, the couple can use money they otherwise would have spent buying the home to pay for the renovations.

Next on their to-do list: the kitchen and bathroom.

"This part of Westminster is changing from people who lived here for 50 years to younger people like us and people who are just starting out," said Chris Killinger, who works on the grounds crew at McDaniel College. "We're putting money into our home, and people down the street are doing that. There is a lot of money going into the houses in this area."

That's exactly what Westminster housing officials had in mind when they started a program in 2002 to encourage homeownership in the city's older neighborhoods. Last month, the city received a second state Community Legacy grant, this one worth $25,000, to continue the program. The Killingers received $2,000 to help them buy their first home.

Karen Blandford, manager of Westminster's Office of Housing and Community Development, said the city is interested in promoting homeownership in all of its neighborhoods, but particularly in the older communities where Victorian and Colonial homes line the streets. City housing officials, Blandford said, found that Westminster's older neighborhoods were being ignored by potential homebuyers.

There "was a hesitation among real estate agents to suggest homes in older neighborhoods based on a reluctance of their clients to consider older neighborhoods," she said.

City housing officials began a small marketing campaign. They created a photo-filled brochure that promoted the charm of owning a home with historic character while trying to entice potential homebuyers with a small incentive.

The program, which was launched in 2002 with a $20,000 state grant, offers financial assistance to homebuyers who purchase older homes within the Old Town Westminster district, which includes East and West Main streets, and Pennsylvania Avenue up to Sullivan Avenue.

City officials have long been working to rehabilitate the troubled neighborhood along Pennsylvania Avenue.

In the first year, the money was gone within months, with 10 recipients receiving $2,000 each to cover home closing costs.

The recipients included the Killingers, who moved into their house in July.

In the spring, Chris and Emily Killinger decided it was the right time to buy a house together. They were getting married in August, so it made sense to start looking, Chris Killinger said.

They moved out of their Hampstead apartment in April and moved in with Emily's parents in Westminster to save money.

Their three-month house hunt took them to numerous places just across the border in Pennsylvania and to a few locations in Carroll County before they found their cozy two-story house in Westminster.

"We looked at some places across the Pennsylvania line because houses in the Westminster area are expensive," Chris Killinger said. "We were looking at homes upwards of $150,000 in Westminster."

He said luck and timing helped them get a great deal on their three-bedroom house. Emily's great-aunt was thinking of selling her home of more than 50 years.

Not only did they get an affordable price on the house - $105,000 - but it is in one of the city's older neighborhoods, which meant the couple qualified for a grant.

"It became very attractive to us because they allowed us to use [the grant money] for the closing costs," Chris Killinger said. "That was what we were scraping to get the money together for."

As a result, Chris and Emily, a graphics designer at the Baltimore Jewish Times, were able to settle on their first home more quickly - with money to spare for renovations.

"The day we settled in the house, we started working on the house," Chris Killinger said.

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