Baltimore City Council plans hearing on bringing back 'Dollar House' program

The Baltimore City Council is holding a hearing this week in an effort to revive the city’s “Dollar House” program as a way to revitalize some of Baltimore’s struggling neighborhoods.

In the 1980s, Baltimore officials sold houses for $1 and helped finance rehabilitation of the properties through low-interest loans if homeowners agreed to live in the houses for a specified period of time. This effort is often credited with helping revitalize neighborhoods such as Otterbein and Ridgely’s Delight.

Now, City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke is asking why the city doesn’t — once again — try the program as a way to combat blight and vacant properties.

“So many people ask me, ‘What every happened to the “Dollar House” program?’ ” Clarke said. “It was a very successful program.”

Clarke has introduced a resolution — which is supported by the rest of the 15-member City Council — that encourages the city to back the program. The hearing will take place at 5 p.m. Wednesday.

“As Baltimore looks to solve the seemingly intractable problem of revitalizing neighborhoods beset by vacant homes, it would do well to look to solutions that have succeeded here in the past,” Clarke’s resolution states. “The City’s highly successful ‘Dollar House’ program from the 1980’s could serve as a useful model for true grassroots neighborhood revitalization in the modern era.”

Baltimore has thousands of vacant buildings, ranging anywhere from more than 16,000 to more than 46,000, depending on who's counting. Many of them are owned by city government.

“If the City were to redirect funding currently earmarked to tear down these properties into 1% interest loans to modern day homesteaders willing to purchase the properties for $1 and rehabilitate them, this proven model could be replicated and the City could save money over the long term,” Clarke’s resolution states.

“Pairing these homeownership incentives with construction job training and apprenticeship programs in the targeted neighborhoods could simultaneously provide the two things most needed to turn lives around there — affordable housing and access to meaningful well-paying work.”

During her mayoral campaign, Mayor Catherine Pugh endorsed Mayor William Donald Schaefer's “Dollar House” program as a success she’d like to emulate. In her housing plan, Pugh wrote that she wanted to “provide imaginative tax incentives for developers and individuals (The $1 house program worked).”

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

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