Dollar-A-House Program Discussed In City Council Committee | WYPR

Dollar-A-House Program Discussed In City Council Committee

Oct 26, 2017

A screenshot of Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke speaking at a October 16 City Council meeting.
Credit charmtv.tv

The Baltimore City Council Committee hearing Wednesday night on revamping the 1980s-era "Dollar-A-House" program was packed.

WYPR City Hall Reporter Dominique Maria Bonessi was there, and talks about it with Nathan Sterner.

More on the program

Credit DOMINIQUE MARIA BONESSI

In the 1980s there were efforts to condemn blocks of vacant, historic homes in Otterbein and Ridgely’s Delight. But then, the city came up with the Dollar-A-House program to salvage those homes and revitalize those neighborhoods.

“The program was developed by the house department that you could buy one of these houses for a dollar," says Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke. "But you had to get a loan which was a low interest federal loan.”

Clarke sponsored of the resolution to bring back the program. She says those low interest loans would be used to restore and revitalize the houses within a certain period of time.

“And if you didn’t, you couldn’t take title to it," says Clarke.

But once those houses were revitalized the program went missing-in-action. Clarke says she doesn’t know why.

Today a local neighborhood group called “H.O.M.E.S”—Homeownership, Opportunity, and Mentorship for Economic Success—wants to use the same idea to revitalize neighborhoods overcome by vacant homes and blight.

“All we’re saying is why don’t you throw us a bone," says Tyrone Bost, president of H.O.M.E.S and a resident of Ashburton. "You know throw the working class person a bone.”

Bost says he wants working class families in Baltimore to be given more opportunity to be homeowners.

“Let the working class have that loan that they’re going to pay back to you," says Bost.

But given Baltimore’s declining population, the blight and the crime rate, will the program incentivize people to move to Baltimore?

“But let’s say I’m a young man with a young family right," says Bost. "And somebody came to me and said you know they got a program in Baltimore you can buy a house for a dollar right. And you can get a one percent interest renovation loan. And all you gotta do is stay there five years. I’m jumping right on that!”

There is one element that wasn’t there 30 years ago that Bost says will help.

“It’s going to take electricians, plumbers, and brick masons to put these houses together," says Bost.

Bost--a master plumber, HVAC tech, gas fitter and certified pipe welder among other things--says he wants to promote a program of apprenticeships through court-ordered diversions to revitalize the homes and keep some juvenile offenders from going to jail.

“Some of these kids don’t have opportunity," says Bost. "We want to give them an opportunity as well to improve their life expectations because a lot of these kids are living in hopelessness.”

Councilwoman Clarke, who has the backing of the entire council, says it’s a grass roots effort; "from the neighborhood for the neighborhood."

She says the program gives residents, rather than developers, a say in the development of their own communities. But there is one big problem, Clarke says there’s no money available for low interest loans for rehab work. So how else can the program be implemented?

“We’ll darned if I know," says Clarke. "We could do a bond.”

The city could float a bond at a low interest rate and use that money for the loans. Or, the city might tap into the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s dollar-a-house initiative. But Clarke fears that might not be an option, given looming potential massive cuts to the 2018 federal budget.

“On Trump we should not rely," says Clarke. "We got to rely on ourselves.”

So, it’s likely funding the program may be the main topic of debate for the council’s housing and urban affairs committee tonight.