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Southeast Baltimore targeting the young Affordable prices of homes stressed to first-time buyers; Countering urban decline; Research shows Generation X drawn to neighborhoods


Southeast Baltimore, with some of the city's oldest neighborhoods, is trying to sell itself to Generation X with listings on a new computer bulletin board, a video featuring young buyers and -- perhaps more compelling -- some of the region's most affordable homes.

Homes like the $59,900 three-bedroom brick townhouse with hardwood floors on South Potomac in Patterson Park. Or the four-bedroom, three-level townhouse on South Milton in Canton, listed for $64,000.

These are deals within the reach of someone paying $550 to $600 in monthly rent, according to William Cassidy, a Baltimore Realtor with Long & Foster.

"We're not going to depend on jobs to bring people back to that housing," he said, referring to the shrunken industrial base that once defined Southeast Baltimore. "It's the price of the housing. I challenge any first-time buyer to find anything that comes close."

The flight of Baltimore families to the suburbs is a familiar story, one that was at the center of sharp rhetoric in the recent Democratic mayoral campaign.

But the marketing campaign being launched by the nonprofit Southeast Development Inc. is the latest initiative to take on the decline that has gripped the 30,000-home area as waterfront factories have closed and once-thriving neighborhoods have begun to empty.

SDI, an affiliate of the Southeast Community Organization, has been operating the Southeast Real Estate Center at 3614 Eastern Ave. in Highlandtown as a resource for homebuyers, sellers and real estate agents.

Normally open weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the center -- run by housing director Janet Byers -- is extending its hours to Saturdays (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and Sundays (1 p.m. to 4 p.m.) through mid-November. The center has also trained 16 real estate agents from 13 Baltimore-area offices to sell the Southeast.

The training program included meetings with community leaders and discussions about the wide range of special financing programs available.

What led SDI to focus on young, first-time homebuyers was the research conducted by its public relations consultant, the Baltimore firm of Smith Mead.

A survey of new homeowners in the Southeast neighborhoods revealed that they were younger, better-educated and wealthier than the residents in the 1990 census, suggesting that similar buyers could be attracted to the community, said Joanna von Briesen of Smith Mead.

"Our research showed that Generation X'ers are the ones we have to concentrate on. They don't come to this process with preconceived, reinforced negative images," she said. They do want a home that will allow them to walk along the Patapsco River to a cafe for dinner or to the theater, Ms. von Briesen said.

The survey also showed that 51 percent of new Southeast homebuyers were coming from Baltimore County.

"That just blew everybody's mind," Ms. von Briesen said.

One new Fells Point owner highlighted in the SDI video, Denise Tassin, says she sees many buyers in their 20s.

"They just seem to be picking up old houses in neighborhoods like Fells Point, Butchers Hill, Highlandtown, and they're beginning to rehab them," she said.

In fact, in the first half of this year, home sales in Southeast Baltimore grew by 14 percent, and the average sales price was $49,733.

The center is offering a settlement-expense loan of up to $5,000 to help homebuyers with limited cash. The purchase price may not exceed $85,000, and the 10-year, 5 percent loans are offered to buyers in Highlandtown, Canton, Fells Point, Upper Fells Point and Brewers Hill. More details can be obtained by calling 342-3234.

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