Momentum builds for dollar houses in Baltimore

Alternative to demolishing vacant houses

BALTIMORE - The street sign denoting Homesteader Alley, tucked away in the exclusive Otterbein neighborhood near the Inner Harbor, is one of the only signs of a Baltimore success story decades ago when the city allowed people to buy deteriorated rowhouses for a dollar if they would agree to fix them up.

RELATED: Baltimore City Council debating to bring back dollar house program

"We have friends who live in dollar houses today in Otterbein and it's a wonderful idea,” said Stanley Fine, a supporter of the program, “Sterling Street, Barre Circle, Otterbein are great neighborhoods and the dollar houses is what started them off."
    
Now, City Councilwoman Mary Pat Xlarke says she's overwhelmed by the public's reaction to kicking off a similar program.

"What worries me is people are calling and they want their house and we're not that far along," said Clarke.
    
The “Dollar Homes for the 21st Century” would target a yet to be determined cluster of homes and would create new jobs and opportunities for minority-owned businesses by relying on licensed, professional contractors.

"To oversee smaller, local construction groups from the hood that will train young people as apprentices and returning people to the neighborhood as apprentices in the trades," said Clarke.
    
Finding the money to provide low interest loans to buyers could be the next challenge.

"During Mary Pat Clarke's time and during William Donald Schaefer's time, we had urban development action grant federal dollars.  Everybody knows the federal grants have been cut," said Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh.
    
But Clarke says the city could seek bonds during next year's general election to back one-percent loans if it wants to provide a better future for neighborhoods, which have long since been written off.

"It's us doing for us and that's what it's all about in Baltimore," said Clarke.

The idea for the program came from tradesman who balked at the city's plans to spend $94 million to demolish 4,000 houses.
    
That's over $23,000 per house, which they feel would be better spent fixing them, than tearing them down.

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