An idea to shore up neighborhood groups

Urban Chronicle

Funds: Associations could put surplus city cash to good use, one activist says.

April 28, 2005|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

WITH BALTIMORE relatively flush with money for the first time in years, there's no shortage of ideas on how to spend the funds.

One of the most intriguing - and affordable - comes from Dennis Byrne, a longtime activist in the Wyman Park and Hampden neighborhoods of North Baltimore.

Byrne's idea is to have the city funnel to community groups 50 cents or a dollar for each household in the area they represent.

With about a quarter of a million households in the city, the proposal would cost no more than $250,000 a year. But Byrne says it would mean a lot to organizations like the Wyman Park Community Association.

Byrne says the group, which he serves as a board member and past president,encompasses 860 homes and three apartment complexes and has a few thousand dollars on hand.

Byrne says groups like his could use the money to do their own planning, for grass-roots programs like community fairs or parties, or perhaps to fund cleanup efforts or make small neighborhood improvements.

Byrne says he forwarded his idea to City Council members Belinda Conaway, who represents the 7th District, and Mary Pat Clarke, who represents the 14th.

Tax credit bill would help rich homeowners

Not every homeowner in Baltimore will be getting the property tax cut of 2 cents per $100 of assessed value that Mayor Martin O'Malley and City Council President Sheila Dixon announced in March. Some will be getting a $1.16 reduction in their rate, if a bill introduced by Dixon last week becomes law.

Dixon's bill would extend the life of a tax credit for newly built and gut-rehabbed homes, set to expire June 30, through 2007. The credit gives a five-year tax break, beginning at 50 percent the first year going down to 10 percent in the last.

That means each buyer of the new $500,000-plus townhouses planned for Locust Point that served as a backdrop for the tax-cut announcement would receive a tax credit of about $6,000 in the first year.

As I pointed out in a column last year, having large tax breaks go to owners of pricey new properties is increasingly common for the program, originally enacted in the mid-1990s as a way to stimulate building and encourage middle-class homeownership during a period of disinvestment and decline. Overall, the program cost the city $1.2 million last year, according to a report by the finance department, which concluded that any benefit of the credit in encouraging homeownership is "likely insignificant."

Antonio Hayes, Dixon's legislative director, said communities with moderately priced housing still need the credit. "The bill will probably get a couple of amendments, though what they are I can't say," he said.

Perhaps one ought to be to limit the credit to the first $200,000 of a home's purchase price.

New owner in possession of church-related property

A long-running battle over three vacant rowhouses that pitted the city and an East Baltimore community group against a church-related development corporation has ended.

Three months after a court-ordered auction of the three rowhouses in the 1400 block of E. Lombard St. in the Washington Hill neighborhood just east of Corned Beef Row, the property finally changed hands from the Apostolic Community Development Corp. to the Montgomery County firm that was the high bidder on the properties.

The January auction was ordered by Baltimore Circuit Judge Clifton J. Gordy, who found Bishop Franklin C. Showell, the leader of the First Apostolic Institutional Faith Church, and the development corporation he controls guilty of civil contempt for not abiding by a 2003 consent decree to fix up the properties or sell them.

The Gaithersburg firm, incorporated under the name ARM Lombard Properties LLC, is seeking approval from the city's Commission on Historical and Architectural Preservation for a plan to turn the rowhouses into condominiums, according to a company representative.

Despite defaults, Friedman in negotiations with state

Partnerships involving Mendel Friedman defaulted on more than $2 million in city loans in 2002 and a $3.4 million Federal Housing Administration mortgage last year for low-income apartments, but the defaults have not made him persona non grata with the state.

Last month, the Board of Public Works extended for 180 days a newly created Friedman corporation's exclusive negotiating rights to convert an abandoned Regional Institute for Children and Adolescents in southwest Baltimore into senior housing.

Anne Hubbard, director of external affairs for the Department of General Services, said the agency was waiting to receive a formal proposal from Friedman's company and was not aware until contacted by a reporter of his past financial difficulties.

"That's something that would come up in the process should his proposal be accepted," she said.

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