By Jerice Boston
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
City residents and community activists crammed into City Hall Wednesday in hopes of bringing back the “Dollar House” program that revitalized underprivileged neighborhoods in the 1980s under former Mayor William D. Schaefer.
Some of Baltimore’s top leaders and community advocates pleaded with members of the City Council to reinstate the program with the intent of rehabilitating vacant homes that number from 16,000 to more than 46,000 throughout the city.
“There’s a lack of affordable housing,” said Lt. Col. Tyrone Bost, president of the BPPW Piping and Pipe Welding LLC. “You have houses for $1,200 a month in the hood. That’s Too Much.”
Many of the reported vacant homes throughout Baltimore city are in disadvantaged low-income African-American neighborhoods, officials said. An Urban Institute report said that for every 100 low-income households Baltimore has 25 affordable units.
Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who requested the hearing by the Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, said The One Dollar House program is the best solution right now as Baltimore looks to solve the seemingly intractable problem of revitalizing neighborhoods beset by vacant homes.
In the 1980s, neighborhoods such as Ridgely’s Delight and Barre Circle were transformed when eager individuals bought vacant properties for $1 with the agreement to renovate and live in the properties for a prearranged period.
“Baltimore wants to fix itself,” said Clarke.
Officials said that pairing homeownership incentives with construction jobs, and training and apprenticeship programs in targeted neighborhoods could provide affordable housing and access to meaningful well-paying work – two things most needed to turn lives around.
Some testified that many residents just can’t afford housing due to not being able to get suitable employment. Problems range from lack of skills or trade to having a criminal record.
“It’s a struggle every day, it’s hard as a single parent trying to come up with $850 to pay the rent working for minimum wage,” said Ashley Coston, an East Baltimore resident.
The program, Housing Our Neighbors, counted 395 vacant homes in East Baltimore, 33 percent more than the city’s count. The U.S. Census found that 24 percent of Baltimore residents live in poverty.
Residents said they were outraged that the state of Maryland allocated $700 million to demolish many of the vacant homes throughout the city.
Bost added in his testimony that instead of using the money for demolition, why not renovate 7,000 houses with $100,000 budgeted for each. This would be a constructive way to use the $700 million, he said.
Officials said that the average row house in Baltimore is an average size of 1,200 square feet. They said it will cost about $100,000 to renovate each home.
“Your mortgage would end up being about $300 a month at 1 percent interest most people can afford that,” said Bost.
Some residents expressed concern that some $1 home owners may not be financially able to complete repairs on a vacant house, leaving the expense of the upgrade to city and taxpayer funds. The city then has an added expense for a home that could have been demolished initially.
Rehabilitation of a home is a costly venture,” said Robert Lee, a Baltimore resident. “It takes already established credit and equity. The population that would most likely participate would be members of the lower economic class.
Shaefer used federal loans for the “Dollar House” program, but city officials said at the hearing that option may no longer be available. So, a key issue would be how to finance the program in the future.