About two dozen community activists broke into two vacant rowhouses in the 2800 block of Keyworth Ave. in Baltimore's Park Heights neighborhood yesterday, hoping to find a better home for an alleged victim of real estate flipping. They were disappointed.
Neither house had heat, lights or running water. There were no working toilets, tubs, sinks or stoves. Construction debris was strewn through both rowhouses.
Both properties are owned by Allen B. Becker of Owings Mills, a city landlord accused by the activists of real estate flipping -- an increasingly common practice in which speculators buy shoddy homes and sell them to naive purchasers for inflated prices.
Denise Green, 39, became a victim of flipping when she bought a house from Becker, according to members of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) who broke into the houses.
"It's tit for tat," said Norma Washington, chairwoman of a Baltimore chapter of ACORN. "If he's going to screw her, we'll screw him."
Mitchell Klein of ACORN said the group would take over one of the houses on Green's behalf despite their condition.
"The reality is there's no way she can stay here tonight," Klein said. "But we're going to claim this house."
A year ago, Green bought a house a few blocks away in the 2700 block of Oswego Ave. for $39,000 from Becker, who promised to repair it, she said.
But Green said that Becker, who city records show paid about $8,000 for the property, failed to make the repairs, and the city condemned the rowhouse.
Becker, who has been cited for housing violations on at least 19 of his properties, many of them in the lower Park Heights area, did not return calls seeking comment.
Alleck Resnick, a lawyer who has represented Becker at settlements, called Becker "a legitimate businessman."
"Most of his houses are done through FHA [Federal Housing Administration], and all of them must be inspected by appraisers chosen by legitimate lenders," Resnick said. "Rarely have I had calls of complaints about his houses."
Yesterday, the activists gathered at Park Heights and Keyworth, waving signs and chanting slogans before they moved to the Becker properties.
After seeing the condition of the rowhouses, Klein began asking for donations of appliances. Willie Ray, another ACORN member, passed around his hat, collecting $160.25 for Green.
"This is better than what she's living in," Washington said.