A national Jewish organization has created a $1 million loan fund meant to shore up some of Baltimore's low- and moderate-income neighborhoods.
With Mayor Martin O'Malley on hand, officials with the Philadelphia-based Shefa Fund will announce the Baltimore Tzedec Initiative today outside a Reservoir Hill house being renovated with help from the fund.
Reservoir Hill is a historically Jewish community, but Jeffrey Dekro, president and founder of Shefa, said that is just "a blessed coincidence." The home loans will be made in neighborhoods and to recipients with no connection to the faith.
Dekro said Baltimore-area Jews, who over the years moved to outlying suburbs, simply want to give back to the place where they first prospered.
"This is, if you will, a kind of payback," he said. "These are the communities where Jewish wealth was often created. ... We have an ability to respond and are doing so."
Named for the Hebrew word for "justice," the Tzedec Initiative is a revolving loan fund - $850,000 of it raised from local Jewish foundations, and the rest from the Shefa Fund. Organizers plan to continue raising money and hope to reach $1.8 million (the number 18 is the equivalent of the Hebrew word for "life") by the end of next year, Dekro said.
The Tzedec Initiative will make the money available to community lenders, which will provide loans to individuals or groups looking to buy houses in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. So far, $162,000 has gone to the Faith Fund, a community lender, and $100,000 to Harbor Bank.
The properties and borrowers involved will not necessarily be Baltimore's neediest. In Reservoir Hill, a historic townhouse recently was listed for $625,000. The Tzedec loan is being used on a 2,400-square-foot, three-story rowhouse that will be sold to a couple - a social worker and state employee - for about $200,000.
The project qualified for loan help because the Brooks Lane house was in such poor condition that it would not have attracted a for-profit developer, said Daniel McCarthy, executive director of Episcopal Housing Corporation, a nonprofit real estate development corporation renovating the property. If left unrepaired, it could have hurt the neighborhood, he said.
The Faith Fund used some of its Tzedec funds plus money from other sources to lend $171,000 to Episcopal Housing for the project, which received an additional $20,000 loan from the Abell Foundation.
"It's more about community development" than housing for the poor, McCarthy said. "Our goal ... [was] to do a couple houses to kind of jump-start the market."