Homesteaders build dreams for themselves and each other Group's collective labor lets members be homeowners.


Salimah Hassan left home yesterday morning in work boots and gloves to carve out her future.

Ms. Hassan spends her free time installing sheet rock, hammering molding and hauling debris for the People's Homesteading Group.

Every hour that she works on houses in inner city neighborhoods goes toward her goal of owning her own home.

The more she works on other homes, the sooner she'll get her own.

The 10-year-old grass roots organization works under the principle of sweat equity. Members contribute hundreds of hours of their time renovating houses for others. In exchange, they eventually get their own homes.

The prices are low. The mortgages are affordable. Ms. Hassan hopes she will pay only about $250 a month to live in her home on West North Avenue, which should be completed later this year.

"But I'm hoping for this summer. My dream date is July 1992," the 41-year-old health counselor says with a grin. "I wanted to buy a house since I was 25."

She is a patient woman.

It took her 10 years to get her college degree, going to school part-time while raising two children alone. She's still paying off $14,000 in college loans.

And it'll take her three years working with People's Homesteading to get her own house.

She's already worked 700 to 800 hours toward her goal. She seems to accept the hard work as part of her life plan.

Twelve years ago, she says, she changed her name from Alfreda Munford because "I wanted to improve my life."

She chose two Muslim names to remind herself of her life's aims.

Salimah means "peaceful, not easily upset," she says. Hassan means, "making better, beautiful."

Her many months of work with the homesteading group have been "like a therapy group" with the other members, mostly women.

"We get mothers and grandmothers and their friends. We've now got guys who are getting involved, too," she says. When she started out with the group, she says, most of the people working toward their own homes were single mothers.

When carpal tunnel syndrome weakened her right hand, "I learned to hammer with my left hand," she says proudly.

Yesterday found Ms. Hassan out in the bright sun just four blocks from Johns Hopkins Hospital, overseeing a crew of volunteers working along McDonogh Street in the middle of a rough neighborhood called Middle East. Behind seven houses smelling of fresh sawdust, the crew was filling buckets with old bricks and wood as it cleaned debris during the Homesteading group's annual "workathon."

The workathon included 150 volunteers and regular group members, some working on McDonogh Street and others working across town in the 2800 block of W. North Avenue.

The volunteers come together for a weekend each year, finding sponsors who will contribute money to the group for each hour worked.

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