Fair lures prospective homebuyers to explore the city; Trolley tour, financial aid among incentives to stay


Orin Carroll and his wife, Nicole, pay $575 a month in rent for their apartment in Northeast Baltimore -- a figure that's about to increase to $620. Believing that is too much, the couple is looking to buy a house.

So are Goldie Balintag and her fiance, Kenny McGee, who live in Glen Burnie. Both couples took advantage of a homebuying fair during the weekend sponsored by Fannie Mae Foundation, Live Baltimore Marketing Center and Baltimore City.

Nearly 5,000 people attended events at the Baltimore Convention Center and took advantage of free credit checks, access to affordable home listings and trolley tours of Central Baltimore.

"I think it's great because it helps to teach and inform people who didn't think they could afford a home," said Carroll, 33. He was one of four winners of an essay contest, sponsored by Fannie Mae Foundation, in which participants wrote about what owning a home means to them.

Winners received $3,000, which must be used toward closing costs on a home in Baltimore within two years, said Diane Tomb, Fannie Mae senior vice president for communications. The city also has pledged to give $3,000 to the first 20 attendees who close on a Baltimore house within three months of the fair.

A cook at Popeye's, Carroll hopes to buy a house soon. As a child, he lived with his mother and three siblings in his maternal grandmother's rowhouse in West Baltimore. After his grandmother died without leaving a will, uncles forced his family out, he said.

"Losing the stability of a home affected my life in many ways," Carroll wrote in his essay. "A house would bring stability and security into our lives and would break the cycle of the broken dreams of the past."

One of the biggest problems facing some prospective city homebuyers -- particularly members of minority groups -- is lack of good credit. A Fannie Mae study about African-Americans and Hispanics last year found that many have not carefully guarded their credit or don't have access to information about saving money toward a home.

Many took advantage of the fair to let lenders conduct credit checks or make appointments for free financial counseling.

"There's a lack of knowledge," Carroll said. "Credit's a barrier, too. Most of us grow up in a single-parent home where we don't learn about the value of a dollar and how to invest money."

City officials said they are trying to help people get out of public housing and into privately owned homes. About 45,000 people, or 7 percent of the city's population, live in public housing, said Zack Germroth, spokesman for the city's housing office.

The news wasn't always good for fairgoers.

Balintag and McGee weren't thrilled at the news they got from Countrywide Home Loans Inc.

"Basically, we had a credit report pulled up for us just now and it doesn't look too great, but it's repairable," McGee said. "She said for us to try to clear up what we can. She said once we clear that up, she's sure we can do business."

Pub Date: 9/27/99

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