Nonprofit to expand city housing program


The nonprofit St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center is planning to expand a fledgling program to buy and renovate foreclosed properties in Northeast Baltimore with money from a new federal grant.

Under the program that began last year, St. Ambrose can purchase residential properties at a 50 percent discount in a designated area taken over by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development after foreclosure of federally backed mortgages. The nonprofit group then renovates the properties and sells them to homebuyers at market rates.

With $297,000 from a new federal grant, St. Ambrose will be able to expand the program -- designed to combat property flipping and strengthen neighborhoods before they begin to fray -- to purchase properties foreclosed on by private lenders.

The grant and the planned program expansion were announced yesterday at a HUD-foreclosed house off Loch Raven Boulevard near Morgan State University that St. Ambrose bought and renovated. The house is being sold to Chenelle and Donald Poteat, first-time homebuyers who have been renting an apartment in Parkville in Baltimore County for the past seven years.

"We hope to continue the momentum here and take it to the Belair-Edison community," said U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat who helped secure the grant as the ranking minority member of the subcommittee that funds HUD.

Kenneth J. Strong, director of Baltimore's Office of Homeownership, who attended yesterday's announcement, said city officials were looking at ways to expand the program.

"We wanted to see them succeed and we're thrilled that they are," he said.

Vincent P. Quayle, executive director of St. Ambrose, called the program "the most exciting thing I've been involved with since we picketed the banks [over redlining] in 1972."

Since October, St. Ambrose has bought 26 HUD homes, Quayle said, in a federally designated "Asset Control Area" that runs along parts of the Perring Parkway, Loch Raven and York Road corridors and includes such neighborhoods as Perring Loch, New Northwood and Idlewood.

The nonprofit group hopes to purchase another 25 HUD homes by the fall, at a cost of about $30,000 to $40,000 each. Of the 26 homes bought so far, seven have been renovated with private funds at a cost of about $45,000 each and have been sold or are under contract.

The federal Asset Control Area Program began in 2000 and expanded to 16 jurisdictions nationwide -- including Washington and Prince George's County, but not Baltimore -- before being suspended two years later after auditors uncovered several irregularities. A revamped program began in late 2003.

Having all the HUD homes in the designated area go to St. Ambrose helps ensure that the houses will not be bought by speculators, who in the past have often done cosmetic repairs on such properties and quickly sold them at inflated prices, or done little work and turned them into rental properties, officials said.

As part of the program, homebuyers must make no more than 115 percent of the regional median income, which is about $70,000 for a family of four.

"This is not a low-income program. This is to strengthen neighborhoods. That means being part of a healthy market," Quayle said.

The Poteats' home -- a three-bedroom, 1 1/2 -bath rowhouse that includes an expanded kitchen, a new deck and new appliances -- is being sold for $125,000, officials said. That's about $10,000 above the highest-selling home on the block in the past year, according to property records.

The Poteats, who have three children, are happy with the deal. "It's a good price," said Donald Poteat, an environmental inspector with the state.

Chenelle Poteat, a certified nursing assistant at Good Samaritan Hospital, pointed out that the house was within walking distance of her job and near day care for her youngest child. "We looked at several houses, and this was the best one for us," she said.

The federal grant announced yesterday will be placed into a revolving fund and should allow St. Ambrose to buy and renovate up to a dozen houses a year foreclosed on by private lenders, said David Sann, director housing development at the nonprofit.

In all, St. Ambrose officials say they hope to be able to buy and renovate 100 HUD-owned and privately foreclosed houses a year by 2007 and to expand beyond the current designated area.

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