Celebrating her birthday without her beloved home; Lack of funds, red tape hamper house repairs


Helen E. Wilson will celebrate her 100th birthday today, but family members are frustrated as they watch her Upton home fall victim to vandals and bureaucratic red tape, and fear that it will demolished.

Wilson was forced out of the home she worked for decades to buy, on West Lanvale Street, this summer after rainstorms collapsed the roof and snapped support beams. City building inspectors condemned the home last month and warned that it could be demolished if not repaired.

Family members, fearing Wilson's health would deteriorate if she was permanently relocated, had hoped to repair the home in time for her birthday. But the attempts have been hampered because city funds to help elderly and low-income residents repair dilapidated homes are running low.

"She is very depressed," said her grandson Steven Arvinger, a Baltimore school police officer. "We took her down there this week and she saw the condemned sign and broke into tears." Wilson has been staying with Arvinger in Ashburton.

Arvinger and other family members vowed to press on with efforts to save Wilson's dream home, where she moved in 1960 and took ownership in 1972, after years working as a housekeeper. Arvinger found a contractor who said he could repair the house for $10,000, which was $40,000 less than city inspectors had estimated.

Monday, Arvinger said, the housing department told the contractor it had no record of the property, so preparations to repair the home cannot begin. Housing department building inspectors told Arvinger this week that a contractor would have to fix the roof, walls and wiring.

"It seems like rather than preventing a home from being vacant, the city wants them to be vacant," Arvinger said. "So many delays, so many policies."

City Housing and Community Development spokesman John Wesley said he was unsure why no record was found but that the house has numerous violations. He sympathized but said the city's shortage of funds for rehabilitation complicates the problem.

Wesley has been working with the Community Development Administration, a state agency that finances housing for developers building affordable housing, to help the family.

While the family awaits word, vandals in the West Baltimore neighborhood have begun to target the property. This week, the family noticed someone had pried off the front door, Arvinger said.

Wilson and her family hope to briefly forget their troubles today, as they celebrate the milestone birthday at Heritage Parkvale Gardens on Harford Road.

"I am just going to enjoy myself and be happy like I was before," Wilson said yesterday. "My family and my friends are going to be around."

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