Md. moves to shore up neighborhoods

Report analyzes state and local government plans to use U.S. funds to ease damage of foreclosure crisis

April 10, 2009|By Lorraine Mirabella | Lorraine Mirabella,lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

Maryland and other states now receiving federal housing recovery money are taking the first steps toward stabilizing neighborhoods hurt by home foreclosures, says a report released Thursday by Columbia-based Enterprise Community Partners Inc.

Enterprise, a nonprofit affordable-housing investor, analyzed plans by some of the 306 state and local governments that received grants through a $3.92 billion Department of Housing and Urban Development program to address the foreclosure crisis. The program, part of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, funneled $26.7 million to Maryland, $4.1 million to Baltimore and $2.6 million to Baltimore County.

Enterprise, formerly known as the Enterprise Foundation and created by Columbia-founder James W. Rouse and his wife, Patricia, said it reviewed plans by 87 states, counties and cities. It found most of the money (58 percent) will be earmarked to buy and redevelop foreclosed homes and sell them to low- and moderate-income families. Just over a fifth of the money will be used as financing for developers or home buyers. The grants could benefit at least 77,000 units, Enterprise estimates.

Other permitted uses for grants include establishing land banks for foreclosed homes, demolishing blighted buildings and redeveloping vacant homes.

"This is a first great step to slow the decline of America's neighborhoods as a result of the crippling foreclosure crisis," said Amanda Sheldon, a research and policy analyst for Enterprise.

Stuart Katzenberg, lead organizer for the Maryland chapter of housing advocacy group the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, said the grants are a good start, but more needs to be done to keep homeowners from losing their homes, especially borrowers who owe more than their homes are worth because of declining values.

"Things that are critical are, one, keeping people in their homes; and two, putting houses that have been off the market that are vacant back into service, particularly those owned by the banks that are just rotting away," he said.

Katzenberg said he would like to see funds in Baltimore used to start mediation programs in which judges intervene with lenders and borrowers to work out loan modifications.

The report noted that a "promising" approach is being taken by Maryland, which is giving applicants making proposals bonus points for incorporating "green" approaches into renovations, building and land development. It will be years before anyone can measure the program's success, the report said.

city's plan

Highlights of Baltimore city's plan for its $4.1 million grant:

* Use funds to acquire and rehab properties that will be sold to income-eligible homeowners and to nonprofit housing groups that will offer rentals to special-needs groups.

* Target neighborhoods such as Belair-Edison, Waverly/Better Waverly, Brooklyn/Curtis Bay, Cylburn, Edmondson Village, Garwyn Oaks/Hanlon-Longwood, Baltimore Linwood and Reservoir Hill.

* The initial grant will be used to acquire 36 units of foreclosed housing and sold to homeowners. Another 12 units will be sold to nonprofits to provide special needs rentals. Another 40 units could be acquired and rehabbed using proceeds from the initial home sales.

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