Nine buyers close on Nehemiah homes


The address may be Retreat Street, but there was nothing but forward motion yesterday as the first nine buyers took title to new three-bedroom town houses built as part of the massive Baltimore Nehemiah project in West Baltimore.

Mary and Paul Malachi and Willa Mae Wilson were the first buyers to complete their settlements yesterday and receive keys to their just-finished homes in the 1500 block of Retreat Street.

Their houses are among the first of 300 new or rehabilitated residences that are being built this year in the Penn-North and Sandtown-Winchester areas. The project is one of the largest inner-city renewal efforts under way in Baltimore.

The Malachis had their pastor from St. Peter Claver Church bless their house before they took a tour and began putting blinds in the windows. Ms. Wilson got moving assistance from her son, Dennis. All planned to be in the new houses by the weekend.

"This is really, really wonderful," said Mrs. Malachi, 64, a longtime Sandtown area renter who works part-time as a receptionist for the Urban Services Agency. "We couldn't afford to buy a house before. But [the developers] came down to the right price where a person with a low income could afford to buy."

"It's a dream come true," said Ms. Wilson, a service representative for the Social Security Administration. "It's going to be a lovely summer."

"Everything went very well," said Chickie Grayson, vice president of Enterprise Construction Corp., part of the team that built the bTC houses. "People are moving in starting today and tomorrow, and from now on we'll have about five or six settlements a week. We want to get as many people in as quickly as possible."

The nine buyers yesterday are the first of 73 who are scheduled to take title and move into Nehemiah houses in the Penn-North area. Later this month, more buyers will begin taking title to another 17 residences that are being renovated in the Sandtown-Winchester area with Nehemiah funds. Another 210 town houses will be built in the Sandtown-Winchester area starting this summer.

In all, more than 200 of the 300 units already are under contract.

The developer of the 300 units is Enterprise Nehemiah Development Inc., a joint venture of James Rouse's Enterprise Foundation and Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD), a coalition of 45 churches seeking to help restore inner-city neighborhoods.

They financed the $25 million project with a variety of funds, including the largest grant ever awarded under the Nehemiah program of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Under the program, buyers who earn at least $11,800 may qualify to purchase a three-bedroom residence for as little as $500 down and $256 per month. The houses cost $62,500 to build, but the buyers are required only to make payments on the $37,500 first mortgage, with federal and city funds covering second and third mortgages. Most buyers earn less than $18,000 a year -- less than half the median income for the Baltimore area.

Yesterday, each buyer received a tool kit as a gift from Enterprise Nehemiah Development Inc. and a choice of kitchen or bathroom appliances from the real estate agent, Homecoming Realty.

The initial buyers also received a bouquet of red roses to commemorate their settlement. By the end of the afternoon, they had given roses to each of the other buyers -- an act of sharing that did not go unnoticed by Enterprise social worker Rosa McCoy. "That's the beginning of good neighbors," she said.

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