In renewal effort, Aberdeen to raze 3 houses

February 25, 2007|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

Aberdeen will bulldoze one dilapidated house and burn down two others today in an attempt by city officials to transform the character of a crime-riddled neighborhood.

The homes are in the 400 block of Washington St., an area city officials once called the epicenter of crime and drug activity. The razing of the houses is the first phase of an effort to make way for three new residences for working families.

"If this doesn't change this street, I don't know what will," said Joann Blewett, director of Harford's Habitat for Humanity, which has purchased the sites and will build the three houses.

"These will be homes for people who deserve to live in the community where they work," Blewett said. "The city has worked hard to rid these streets of crime, and now that these homes are demolished, three stable homeowners will move in there.

"This is a nice change for the city, and we are glad to be part of it."

Harford's increasingly costly housing market leaves little opportunity for the working poor, Blewett said. The owner of one of the houses that will be built works in a nursing home. Another is a nursing assistant at a hospital.

Habitat crews will dig foundations next month as soon as weather permits. Construction usually takes about four months for the nonprofit group's homes, which are typically modest one-story structures with three bedrooms and two baths. The organization also helps buyers secure low-interest mortgages.

Several area churches will assist with the construction, as will the families that will occupy them. Judy Burnell, associate pastor at Bel Air Church of the Nazarene, said the project "puts faith to work." A former project manager for a real estate company, Burnell said she is eager to start building.

"We are all coming together for an ecumenical build and responding to our community's needs," she said.

But first the houses must come down. Aberdeen Mayor S. Fred Simmons will bulldoze one of the homes and has been practicing on a backhoe; the other two will be burned as part of a fire department training exercise. Simmons has framed the number of the most problematic home - 442 - on an asbestos shingle to be hung at city police headquarters.

"Police were there for at least 100 calls for service in the last few years, everything from fights to shots fired," he said.

The city confiscated the home and car of the former owner, a jailed drug dealer.

Instead of a neighborhood rife with drug activity, Simmons envisions a Washington Street filled with Habitat for Humanity homes, he said.

"We have 16 of these homes in town already, and not one of them is a failure," he said. "These are civic-minded people who work hard."

The event begins at 8:45 a.m. and includes a joint blessing from several congregations and a breakfast donated by area restaurants - to be served a safe distance from the fire.

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