When Patricia Taylor calls City Hall about a problem in her neighborhood - or a problem with the dryer, for that matter - she goes straight to the top. And when Taylor phones, Mayor Sheila Dixon takes the call.
Dixon, it turns out, is more than the mayor of the nation's 18th-largest city. She is also a landlord. And for the past 11 years she has rented a two-story rowhouse on the 2200 block of Ruskin Ave. to Taylor and her daughter. Dixon even swings by personally on occasion to pick up the monthly rent.
"I have her cell phone. We talk and I tell her about things that need to be fixed up here, and she gets right on it," said Taylor, 49, from the small living room in the front of her house. "She's good. She's really good."
Ruskin Avenue is a quiet two-block street tucked between Reisterstown Road and Druid Hill Park in the Parkview Woodbrook neighborhood. Dixon bought the house, her first, in the mid-1980s after renting at the Temple Gardens Apartments on Madison Avenue for several years. She lived in the home when she represented the old 4th District in the City Council in the 1980s and 1990s.
The mayor said she purchased the house after attending a homeownership workshop offered by her church. She remembers admiring the home's hardwood floors and large rooms. She said she installed custom shelving that she designed herself, but part of what originally attracted her to the property was that it needed virtually no work.
"A Realtor took me around, and I saw that little house on Ruskin Avenue. It's a cute house, and it was just me," Dixon said. "The person who was selling it had done a pretty good job."
Land records show Dixon purchased the home for nearly $32,000 in 1986. Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation records show the property listed under the name Sheila Dixon Smith, the name she took after her marriage to Mark E. Smith in 1982.
Earlier this month, the home was listed as Dixon's principal residence on the state department's Web site, even though Dixon moved farther west, near the county line, in the mid-1990s. But days after The Sun began researching the home, the property records were changed to reflect that the home is no longer owner-occupied.
The difference, in this case, appears to be insignificant. Generally, a homeowner is entitled to a homestead property tax credit only on the home that person lives in. Dixon, however, was not receiving an undue property tax credit on the second home. The property is assessed for $32,000, and records show the mayor is up to date on property taxes and water bills.
Dixon also noted the property on her 2006 city ethics statement.
Taylor, Dixon's tenant, said she was looking for a home after being forced to move from the Eutaw Gardens housing development in Bolton Hill (the buildings were demolished in 1997). She found the Ruskin Avenue property in a classified ad but did not initially realize it was owned by Dixon. That's because the property was managed by Thomas Hampton, Dixon's husband at the time.
Taylor, who is unemployed, receives a housing subsidy from the federal government, according to records, which means Dixon receives a portion of the monthly rent from her tenant and a portion from the federal Section 8 housing program.
The Sun has requested records on the property from the city's housing department but has not yet received them.
Hampton and Dixon filed for divorce in early 2006, and the decree, which was issued in July, shows Hampton relinquished his interest in the property. Since then, Dixon has been more directly involved in its management. She said she hopes to put a fresh coat of paint on the first floor of the house soon.
Dixon said the neighborhood has changed since she lived there. At the time, she said, many neighbors were seniors who had owned their homes for decades. Now, she said, many of the older residents are leaving and making way for a younger crowd, drawn to the area in part by renovations in nearby Reservoir Hill.
Isaac Bacon, who has lived next door to Dixon's house for 60 years, said he remembers the former councilwoman and that she was a good neighbor.
"I found no fault with her. She was an ordinary neighbor," Bacon said. "She seemed to be a busy person all the time. Taking care of business."
Taylor, who lives in the home with her daughter, Paquita Fisher, said she is comfortable with the neighborhood, that she loves the home and that there is rarely a problem with crime, except for what she called an occasional random shooting.
"The neighborhood is good," Taylor said. "It's not to the point where I have to really call Ms. Dixon and express I don't feel safe around here. It hasn't gotten to that point yet."
If it does, she knows whom to call.