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City sale of vacant homes ends 'beautifully' for pair


They always dreamed of a place to call their own. Yesterday afternoon, Patricia and Michael Hannon proudly showed off their first home to relatives, neighbors and the mayor, who stopped by to celebrate a small success in Baltimore's vaunted sale of vacant properties.

After admiring their sunny and spacious house, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke acknowledged last year's auction had failed to live up to his expectations but said he wanted to try again.

"Just this house makes you feel it's worth it," Mr. Schmoke said. "There were some successes and also some problems. We learned a lot from some of the problems in this program, and given this home, it makes you want to do it again."

The Hannons are one of 20 families to have moved into their homes, among 52 sold at April's Baltimore Home Festival Auction. Another six houses are ready for occupancy, but 13 successful bidders failed to qualify for mortgages or gave up on the program. Thirteen others are waiting for renovations promised by the city. City officials promoted the spring clearance of 125 properties as a chance to attract new homeowners and turn around blocks scarred by the first boarded-up homes. As many as 1,041 blocks in the city now have at least one vacant home.

But the ambitious effort to revitalize older neighborhoods has been dogged by renovation problems as well as complications with credit checks and property appraisals. A highly touted tax sale in 1993 also resulted in only 350 of 1,500 vacant homes being sold.

Mr. Schmoke promised yesterday that the city would "run a more effective program" with the next sale of vacant homes this year.

Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III also visited the Hannons' renovated three-story house in the Belmar section of Northeast Baltimore. "At the time, this was the only vacant in the area," he said. "That's why it was so critical to get it done."

The next time, he said, the city will offer fewer houses that are little more than shells and require a complete overhaul. Such houses are plentiful, and the city's inventory continues to grow.

In the five months since Mr. Schmoke announced a citywide initiative to tear down vacant, crumbling homes, the number has grown from 7,700 to 8,500. The mayor and Mr. Henson yesterday attributed the increase to greater accounting and the decline in Baltimore's population from 736,014 in April 1990 to an estimated 703,057 last year.

The goal of the auctions has been to offer a chance at homeownership to couples such as the Hannons. Mr. and Mrs. Hannon said they looked at several properties before bidding $82,000 on their house on Forest View Avenue. Renovations cost $102,000, but the city will forgive the second mortgage if the Hannons live in the home for 10 years.

The city also is spending about $100,000 in block grants on each of 15 homes sold in the auction, according to an incomplete list provided by housing officials.

Two homes in East Baltimore are undergoing repairs even though contracts with the bidders have been canceled. The city will have to sell both homes, but it is unclear whether the costs will be recouped.

Also, the city is hiring a company to complete nine houses on East Lafayette Street. Mayor Schmoke said he was aware of shoddy and incomplete work at some homes. But at the Hannons', he found something to admire. As she showed him photographs of her home before the work was done, Mrs. Hannon described how it had rotting floors, outdated appliances and dark paneling.

"It turned out beautifully," she said. "It's a whole new house inside."

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