Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Editorial Notebook

August 15, 2009|By Nancy Johnston

The housing market is heating up, and who knows? Maybe that fabled Baltimore renaissance is right behind. As such, I'd like to take a moment to point out how I single-handedly started this housing trend, having purchased a house in the city with my boyfriend - a full month before the turnaround.

You're welcome, Baltimore.

Before you rain on my parade, yes, I've heard the theories behind the uptick in sales. Increased home foreclosures are fueling the low prices, driving the market; greedy developers are outbidding buyers looking for a new home; flippers are just biding their time till prices stablize, along with interest in the market. But, having recently gone through the first-time homebuyer gauntlet, I've seen scores of hopeful homeowners who think that this is the time to make a different kind of investment. Not just in real estate, but in Baltimore.

I know it's hokey, especially in today's cynical, nearly poisonous political environment, but I actually believe in this city, its inhabitants and the American dream. So nothing makes me happier than to read that Baltimore-area home sales rose for the second consecutive month in July, meaning I have plenty of new neighbors to bake for. Oh man, have you tried my chocolate chip cookies? They're legendary. Ask anyone.

Don't get me wrong: I know Baltimore isn't Utopia. While I've only lived in Charm City since 2007, and haven't witnessed any of the typical Baltimore horrors made famous on "Homicide" and "The Wire," it's impossible to ignore the conventional wisdom. No, I haven't seen the drugs or the guns, my car and apartments haven't become crime scenes, and my person and possessions have remained intact; yet after hundreds of nights in the newsroom, overhearing tales of crime both heinous and petty, I can honestly say I'm aware of the dangers of urban life.

But look at it from my perspective: Practically anywhere is more dangerous than my hometown of Salisbury. And while I love to return there for visits, I know I'll never be content living in a rural environment again. So city living it is, and this is my city.

For most Americans, homeownership isn't a financial strategy. It's an investment in the life we've all been told we could have, with lots of hard work and more than a little luck. My boyfriend and I bought our home - with a little prodding from the federal government in the form of an $8,000 tax credit - after we found a house we fell in love with in Hamilton, the neighborhood where he grew up. Ours isn't just the story about a young couple homesteading in the "wild urban frontier," it's about a man returning to the city he loves to make a home and raise a family. And hard though it is to believe for an Eastern Shore transplant, living and working in Baltimore has been my goal since high school.

So buying our first home in May was beyond exhilirating. It was the culmination of that lifelong desire to know that I have a real home, a place to go to at the end of a long day or a short vacation. Our .12-acre plot of land in the city, and the three-bedroom house that sits on it, is ours to fix up, remodel or enjoy at our leisure. We've slipped the surly bonds of landlords, roommates and (uninvited) family, gaining an inumerable amount of long-wished-for liberties.

We're living the wild and crazy life: In the last two months, we've painted a room, adopted a puppy, wired our porch for outdoor speakers and thrown a July 4th party complete with a huge inflatable waterslide in the backyard. Those are small pleasures, in the grand scheme of life, and sometimes not so pleasurable, but the freedom inherent in them is powerful.

Imagine that freedom, that civic pride, throughout the city. All of this, and more, can be yours, as well.

According to Jamie Smith Hopkins' Aug. 11th Sun article, "For every home that sold last month, 8 1/2 others were on the market in the metro area."

That translates to more than 5,500 Baltimore City homes listed on the Metropolitan Regional Informational Systems Web site. That's 5,500 young professionals, families and retired citizens who could live, work and play in this city, patronizing restaurants, museums, theaters, parks and shops.

"Believe."It doesn't have to be just a bumper sticker, it can be a philosophy that brings hope to this city. ("Get in on it," however, will always just be a punchline. Sorry.) Rampant crime and drug use isn't Baltimore's only legacy, and as I may have mentioned before, I feel I've already sparked a modest revival.

Again, you're welcome.

-Nancy Johnston

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