A red auction flag hung out over Hollins Street yesterday, signaling the failure of a West Baltimore housing project once touted as a major revitalization effort in the historic community where writer H. L. Mencken lived and died.
The state's Maryland Housing Fund arranged yesterday's auction of 90 townhouses and apartments owned by New York investor Howard Loewentheil who defaulted on $4 million in state mortgage loans he used to renovate the buildings in the Hollins Market and Union Square neighborhoods in the 1980s.
Yesterday's auction of the Market Mews and Hollins Townhouse projects brought a few dozen onlookers and only one buyer for a rowhouse on the 1300 block of Hollins St. containing two deteriorated apartments.
With no other bidders, the state took ownership of the rest of the buildings.
Vicki Davis, deputy director of the Maryland Housing Fund, said the state will market the buildings to first-time homebuyers. The state will offer low-interest loans covering down payments and purchase prices.
The state expected the lack of interest in the auction, said Ms. Davis, because no financing was offered to potential buyers at auction. She called the foreclosure auction a "way to cleanse" the titles of the properties so the state can take control and sell the properties.
Ms. Davis said Mr. Loewentheil's problems began when he couldn't sell the townhouses fast enough to meet mortgage payments on the
project. He fell behind several years ago when he began making partial payments to the state.
While Howard Loewentheil is the owner of the properties, they were developed and managed by his son, Stephan Loewentheil, who lived in the community for several years and owns a 19th-century bookstore there. The younger Mr. Loewentheil declined to comment yesterday.
The original project had 124 residential units, but only 34 were sold. The remainder were rented.
Yesterday's only auction buyer was Ardebella Fox, who purchased 1308 Hollins St., a three-story rowhouse for $31,000. One of the apartments, renovated 10 years ago, is vacant and vandalized, with holes in the walls and a broken banister. Ms. Fox, who has lived in the community for 30 years, said it will take an additional $10,000 to repair the building before it can be occupied.