Council president’s home ownership under review

City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young pledged Friday to repay government coffers if a review by City Solicitor George Nilson finds that he or his sister improperly benefitted from a program meant to help secure replacement housing for city residents displaced by urban renewal projects.

"If the city solicitor says there's any repayment, it will be paid," Young told The Baltimore Sun, adding that he asked Nilson to look into the circumstances around his co-ownership of the East Baltimore rowhouse in question.

"I wanted to make sure everything was done properly," Young said, "and no mistakes were made along the way." Such a repayment could total $14,000, based on language in mortgage documents.

A review of public records shows that Young lives in and co-owns a rowhouse largely paid for with public money, including $20,300 from a federal program aimed at helping low-income households. Nilson's review is expected to address questions about whether Young is entitled to his ownership stake in the house, currently assessed at $100,000.

Young, 55, said he believes there was nothing irregular about the back-to-back transactions in 2001, when his sister Cynthia Young added his name to the deed for a house on Central Avenue just three weeks after she bought it for $57,000, using mostly public funds.

"If my sister wanted to put me on the deed…she had every right to do that," Jack Young said Friday. Cynthia Young, who works at the city's 311 call center, could not be reached for comment.

Questions about Young's co-ownership of the house mark the third time this year that his housing situation has generated headlines. Last week he complained to reporters about "another attack on my character" and "another round of allegations regarding my residency."

The first issue that arose involved a Harford County home he owned from 1993 to 2005. He claimed a homestead tax credit on the house, even though it was not his principal residence.

Then last month Young revealed that he and his wife, Darlene, live in the Central Avenue house even though he lists a house he owns nearby in the 1500 block of E. Madison St. as his residence on city documents. To prove that he lives on Central, he invited reporters into the home and showed them his underwear drawer.

Now come questions about how he wound up with a stake in the Central Avenue house in the first place, aspects of which were first reported by WBAL-TV.

The purchase has its roots in another home that he bought elsewhere in East Baltimore nearly a decade earlier. In 1993, Young paid about $5,500 for a rowhouse at 903 Durham St. He and his sister were listed as co-owners on the deed, though only she lived there. "His intent was for her to have a place to live," his spokesman Dennis Edwards said.

In 2001, the city used its eminent domain power to compel the sale of that house and others on the block to make way for expansion of the Johns Hopkins medical institutions. After going through the appraisal process, the city paid $14,200 for the Youngs' property, which was demolished and is now an empty lot.

For Jack Young, the city's purchase of the Durham house ended its obligation to him. "Non-occupant owners" are entitled to their share of the home's fair market value, but not to any fees paid for relocation, said Julie Day, the city's assistant commissioner for land resources, in an e-mail.

But Cynthia Young's case was different. As the owner-occupant, she was entitled to half the $14,200, plus help buying a comparable house in a decent neighborhood. In July 2001 she took title to a home in the tree-lined 900 block of Central Ave. The $57,000 purchase price came from three pots: the full $14,200, the standard $22,500 relocation grant and a $20,300 "soft second" mortgage paid out of federal housing funds conveyed to the city.

Unlike a typical mortgage, the soft second (a misnomer in the sense that there was no first mortgage) did not require Cynthia Young to make any payments. And the balance would drop by 10 percent a year until it reached zero after a decade. But it came with conditions. One required her to live in the house for 10 years or else repay the city the remaining balance.

Another provision stated that no public officials, including City Council members, could "obtain a personal or financial interest or benefit." Housing experts say such provisions are meant to keep public officials from using inside information to buy up properties slated for urban renewal. It is not clear whether this provision might have precluded Jack Young from signing onto the mortgage.

The money for Cynthia Young's soft second mortgage came from a federal program called HOME, which is "designed exclusively to create affordable housing for low-income households," according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

At the time, Jack Young was drawing a City Council salary and working in the filing room at Hopkins Hospital's radiation department.

On Aug. 16, 2001, Jack Young's name was added to the deed for Cynthia Young's new home on Central Avenue. About four years later, in 2005, he moved into the house. As his spokesman Edwards said last week: "The council president did not move into that house until his sister moved out. That was in 2005." Edwards could not say why she moved out or where she went, though her name remained on the deed.

The swap violated the mortgage's requirement that she live in the house for 10 years. Repayment, it states, "shall be required" if during the 10-year "period of affordability," the buyer "ceases to use its Unit as its principal residence." If this occurred in the fourth year of the agreement, she would be obligated to repay 70 percent of the loan, or $14,210; if during the fifth year, it would be 60 percent or $12,180.

Merely adding Jack Young's name to the deed in 2001 might have put her at odds with the mortgage's terms, according to one real estate lawyer. The mortgage states that she must immediately repay the city "in the event that the buyer sells, assigns, rents, transfers" or refinances the property. Derek Massey, a real estate attorney who is not involved in this case, noted that deeding ordinarily amounts to "an interest in the real estate being transferred."

But Young maintains he had a right to be added to his sister's deed because he co-owned the Durham Street house. "My name should have been on the deed for the new property," he said. "But the company that ran the program did not list my name. Later, I pointed out the error and the deed was corrected."

Moreover, he said, he never saw a penny of the $14,200 the city paid for the Durham Street house. Asked why he didn't ask her for his share, he said, "that's why she put me on the deed" for the Central Avenue house.

As for the $20,300 soft second mortgage, he said his sister was "erroneously" told to apply for it. He said he had no involvement in the loan application and, his spokesman says, he "was not heavily involved" in the Central Avenue purchase.

Nilson said his legal staff began a review of the arrangement when Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano asked for one last week. Young's office made a similar request this week, Nilson said. He expects to complete the review by late next week and will convey his findings to Young and Graziano before making any public statements.

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