HotSpot funding increase wanted; Lawmakers seek aid for low-income homebuyers


Looking for remedies to heal four troubled neighborhoods, four Anne Arundel legislators are calling for the state to spend more money to help low-income buyers find mortgages.

The four have requested that next year's budget aid HotSpot communities by channeling more money from the state's mortgage assistance program to low-income homebuyers in those areas.

Dels. John R. Leopold, Joan Cadden and Mary M. Rosso and state Sen. Philip C. Jimeno sent a letter to the chairman of the House Health and Human Resources Subcommittee urging him to include changes in the housing budget that would benefit HotSpot communities. An expansion of the state's mortgage assistance program could benefit 62 communities across the state that have been designated as HotSpots for their willingness to fight drugs and crime.

"I believe homeownership is a vitally important aspect of fighting crime," Leopold said. "People who own their homes have a track record of taking care of their homes. You know, the appearance of a community can either repel or beget crime."

The subcommittee will hold a hearing on the budget at 2 p.m. tomorrow in the Lowe House Office Building. Leopold said increasing homeownership in HotSpot neighborhoods would discourage criminals from moving in and would encourage businesses to return. Anne Arundel County has HotSpots in Eastport, Pioneer City, Brooklyn Heights and Parole.

"Switching from rental to ownership in only one or two houses in a relatively small neighborhood, can be a significant change," said Ed McDonough, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development.

Leopold said that although he is pleased with the progress of the HotSpot program, more can be done to help the communities fight drugs.

"This should be a priority," Leopold said. "Money should be directed toward the HotSpots wherever possible. Every little bit helps."

In fiscal 2000, a loan assistance program for select low-income homebuyers in HotSpot neighborhoods was established using $4 million in state bond money.

Anne Arundel County received $500,000, which was split between Eastport and Pioneer City, the county's two HotSpots at the time. Brooklyn Heights and Parole won HotSpot designation in December.

The state also offered an $8.2 million tax-based fund for other low-interest home loans, which the governor wants to increase to more than $8.5 million in fiscal year 2001. Leopold wants to dedicate the increase to housing loans in HotSpot communities.

But a $300,000 increase probably won't provide loans for many people.

McDonough said the number of loans made in each jurisdiction depends on the local cost of housing. As of last week, the Anne Arundel communities had not distributed all their loan money, but Prince George's County made four loans with the $500,000 it had. Harford County, with its cheaper housing market, made eight loans in its HotSpot communities with roughly the same amount.

The state began the HotSpot program in 1997 by designating HotSpots in 36 drug-riddled communities. The program awards money to neighborhoods that have plans to improve their surroundings, and the grants provide stepped-up policing and prosecutions, and support for youth and neighborhood programs.

In 1999, the program was expanded to an additional 26 areas after crime statistics from the governor's office showed a 21 percent decrease in serious crime in areas where HotSpot tactics had been implemented.

Serious crime fell more than 19 percent in Pioneer City during the first two years of the program.

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