Town is considered for housing program 'Sweat equity' helps low-income families purchase homes


Union Bridge might be the next Carroll County community in line for a nonprofit program that helps low- and moderate-income people work their way to homeownership.

James E. Upchurch Jr., president of Interfaith Housing of Western Maryland Inc., said his organization is evaluating the feasibility of such a project in Union Bridge. Representatives held three community meetings during the summer.

"I'm encouraged. I'm mostly encouraged by the fact that we have leadership and vision on the part of the local officials and the people who came out to the meetings really cared about the community and wanted to see it upgraded," he said.

The group is expected to start its first Carroll County project fTC next month in Taneytown, where seven families will begin building homes. The families have incomes that are too low for a conventional mortgage, but they have qualified for Interfaith's "sweat equity" program.

Under the group's sponsorship, people who cannot afford down payments work in teams to help build houses. The buyers obtain low-interest loans from Rural Development (formerly the Farmers Home Administration).

The families are the first of 22 participants who will contribute their labor to the project.

A Union Bridge project would be more complicated than Taneytown's, Upchurch said.

In Taneytown, the agency acquired one section of a planned subdivision, Freestate Heights, from a single owner. In Union Bridge, agency representatives would have to negotiate sales with individual lot owners or landlords.

Upchurch said two projects are under consideration: building on vacant lots or rehabilitating rental units. He said the agency may do some of each.

Interfaith Housing needs about 21 self-help participants to make it cost-effective to staff a project, he said.

Union Bridge, population 1,003, has welcomed Interfaith Housing. Sixty-five percent of the 371 housing units in town were built in 1939 or earlier. Although some of the Victorian homes have been restored, others are run-down. Nine houses lack indoor plumbing. Some adult children of Union Bridge residents cannot find housing in the community, said Kathleen D. Kreimer, a Town Council member and landlord.

Mayor Perry L. Jones said the council favors programs that will allow renters to become homeowners.

The community meetings last summer produced sales offers from 25 lot owners, but the lots will have to be evaluated before the housing group considers purchases, Upchurch said.

The reactions of four landlords who attended the meetings ranged from interest in selling to casual interest in the agency's plans, Kreimer said.

Her husband, Joseph Kreimer, came away with a favorable impression of the concept, but said, "The meat of it is in the details. I'd like to see the details before I get any more involved in it."

Interfaith Housing, founded by Roman Catholic Bishop P. Francis Murphy in 1989 to involve churches and synagogues in affordable-housing projects for low-income families, has 15 projects in Western Maryland.

"We're now beginning to try to pick up the pace in Carroll County," Upchurch said. "There is a serious need for [housing] for people who have been sort of left out of the housing market."

Pub Date: 9/25/97

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