Howard Offit, real estate developer


Howard Offit, 68, a commercial real estate developer for R.S. Properties who gained national fame when he hired a social worker to assist tenants of houses he owned, died Tuesday night in a two-car crash at of Greenspring Valley and Stevenson roads in Baltimore County.

Mr. Offit, of the 3700 block of N. Charles Street, was pronounced dead from multiple injuries at 9:21 p.m. at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

Police said the car that Mr. Offit was driving was struck on the driver's side as it passed through the intersection. His wife of 46 years, Joan, 66, was a passenger in the car and suffered internal injuries. She was listed in fair condition last night in the intensive car unit unit at Sinai Hospital. Police said charges are pending against the driver of the car that struck Mr. Offit's vehicle.

In 1964, he created a program to teach low-income tenants how to care for the properties they rented. Mr. Offit donated a building in the 1700 block of Lafayette Ave. to house the program and hired a social worker, Jane Mathieu, to run it. The program eventually became known as Echo House, and its services grew to include the development of neighborhood parks and gardens, a tutoring program, three neighborhood basketball teams, a modern dance class, a course for unwed mothers and a bimonthly newsletter.

As president of the Property Owners Association, a position he assumed in February of 1961 and held until 1964, Mr. Offit took a hard-line approach of tenants who vandalized or failed to maintain rental properties. He pushed for the prosecution of tenants who damaged properties and called for a citywide crackdown on tenants who abandoned properties and left the owners with huge repair bills, The Sun reported.

By 1964, he had abandoned his hard-line approach in favor of educating the tenants. During an interview that year, he was asked about his decision to hire a social worker. "I've always been interested in tenant education and of course in obtaining better tenants," he explained.

Ms. Mathieu's work at Echo House eventually reduced tenant turnover and late payment of rent. But, Mr. Offit said, "The untranslatable profits are centering in creating tenant roots and stability in the area."

The 1943 graduate of Forest Park High School served three years in the Army during World War II. He attended the University of Maryland before joining R.S. Properties, where he learned the real estate business from his father-in-law, Robert Seff.

Mr. Offit rose up the ranks to become president of the company. He sold most of his residential properties several years ago and turned his attention to commercial development. His company handled such projects as the Mill Centre and Park Plaza, and most recently took over total ownership of an office complex at 10 E. Eager St.

Services are set for 11 a.m. tomorrow at Sol Levinson and Bros. funeral home, 6010 Reisterstown Road, Baltimore.

In addition to his wife, the former Joan Seff, he is survived by three daughters, Bonnie Garonzik, Robin Cooke and Joy Sibel, all of Baltimore; a brother, Simon Offit of New York City; a sister, Ethel Jacobs of Palm Beach, Fla.; and six grandchildren.

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