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Roger M. Windsor, who headed Baltimore's innovative 'dollar house' homesteading program in the 1970s, dies

Roger Windsor was the founder and first president of the South Baltimore Community Council.
Roger Windsor was the founder and first president of the South Baltimore Community Council. (HANDOUT)

Roger M. Windsor, who headed Baltimore’s innovative “dollar house” homesteading program during the 1970s that helped revitalize downtrodden neighborhoods and stimulate homeownership, died Wednesday from complications of dementia at Integrace Copper Ridge in Sykesville.

The longtime Federal Hill resident, who had lived for more than four decades in Original Northwood, was 80.

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“Roger was one of those people who created excitement with those involved with the dollar house program. He took the lead and you knew you could count on him,” said City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke. “There was a lot of innovation under way, such as the dollar house program. And Roger said, ‘Come on, let’s go.’”

“He was very level-headed, task-oriented and hardworking,” said Robert C. Embry Jr., president of the Abell Foundation and the city’s former housing commissioner.

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Roger Mitchell Windsor was born in Baltimore and raised in Federal Hill. He was a 1955 graduate of Mount St. Joseph High School in Irvington, and earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from what is now Loyola University Maryland and a law degree in 1965 from the University of Baltimore.

After college, Mr. Windsor worked in the boiler room at Bethlehem Steel Corp.’s Sparrows Point plant and later took a job in sales with American Standard Co. When he earned his law degree, he joined the law firm of H. Lee Allers Jr. in the Equitable Building in downtown Baltimore, where he maintained a general law practice.

In 1965, Mr. Windsor was the founder and first president of the South Baltimore Community Council, and when it was proposed to construct Interstate 95 through Federal Hill, Canton and Fells Point, he joined the effort that successfully relocated the highway and spared those historic neighborhoods.

Rosemary Knower, an actress who played roles from Lady Macbeth to a schoolteacher in John Waters’ “Hairspray,” died of a stroke Wednesday at Lankenau Medical Center in Wynnewood, Pa. The former North Baltimore resident was 76.

Mr. Windsor was a member of the original City Fair team in 1970, and remained active with the organization for a number of years. In 1971, he ran unsuccessfully for a 6th District City Council seat.

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In 1971, when then-housing commissioner Mr. Embry announced plans to start the homeownership program he told The Baltimore Sun that the city had become a “city of renters.”

In order to offset that, the city established the Home Ownership Development Program, which helped prospective homebuyers purchase and rebuild city-owned vacant, ramshackle buildings. Because the participants bought the homes for $1 the program became known popularly as the “dollar house” homesteading program.

“I set up the program and asked Roger to head it,” Mr. Embry said. “It was the most successful dollar house program in the country, and that was due to Roger and the staff he assembled.”

Mr. Windsor, who headed the program from a former furniture store in the 400 block of N. Charles St., told The Sun at the time, “This is a new concept — homeownership.”

E. Ralph Hostetter, the former publisher and owner of the Cecil Whig and current chairman and publisher of American Farm Publications Inc., died Tuesday of heart disease at his home in North East. He was 97.

Buyers agreed to repair properties to meet housing code standards. They also were required to “live in the house within six months after obtaining a repair loan and signing a lease-purchase agreement with the city,” the newspaper reported. “Compliance with housing code standards must be achieved within two years after repairs begin, at which time the homesteader acquires title to the property.”

Available housing stock went from Stirling Street, which was the city’s first concentrated homesteading area, and grew to include properties in Otterbein, Barre Circle, Ridgely’s Delight, Rosemont, and other areas scattered throughout the city.

The counseling service provided by Mr. Windsor and his staff to potential buyers “included advice on where to look for a house, how to determine a fair price, and how to get it financed,” The Sun reported. “Those rehabilitating houses are to be given advice on the availability of craftsmen, insurance and other services.”

“I remember Roger fondly when he ran what we called the Homesteading Office,” said M.J. “Jay” Brodie, former housing commissioner, who later headed the Baltimore Development Corp. for 16 years.

“I give him a large part of the credit for developing homeownership in Otterbein — we were never fast enough for [Mayor William Donald] Schaefer — but Roger was very patient and it turned out very well,” he said.

“Roger was easygoing and a pleasure to work with, and he headed a small but energetic group and you can see the fruits of their labor out there,” he said.

Barbara A. Hoff, former head of the city’s Commission for Historic and Architectural Preservation, was an early supporter of Mr. Windsor’s efforts in Otterbein.

“Otterbein was a No Man’s Land, but Roger always had a willingness to listen to people and their ideas about it. This was an area with old and historic homes,” said Ms. Hoff. “Hundreds of people went through the houses and showed up for the lottery. It was an innovative program and ordinary people … anyone could apply.”

She added: “Roger was very personable and conscientious, and it’s a very proud personal heritage that he left to the city.”

Julian L. “Jack” Lapides, a Baltimore attorney and longtime former member of the House of Delegates, was a longtime friend.

“He was a very dear and wonderful person who cared about historic preservation in the community,” Mr. Lapides said. “And he had been a stalwart in protecting his South Baltimore neighborhood from the highway when people in high places wanted it.”

“Mr. Embry’s dollar house program was a perfect complement to the then new historic preservation movement that was starting to assert itself to preserve neighborhoods rather than just individual landmarks,” wrote Alfred W. Barry III, a former city planner, in an email.

Mr. Windsor left the city agency in 1978 and went to Annapolis to head the Maryland Mortgage Fund. After working briefly for Maryland National Bank in the mid-1980s, he became a consultant with the Enterprise Social Investment Corp., helping the James Rouse-founded organization’s mission of creating livable communities throughout the country.

He retired in 2003.

He was a 32nd degree Mason and a member of the Scottish Rite and Boumi Temple of Maryland. As a drum major with the Boumi Highlanders, he was a familiar figure at area parades.

Mr. Windsor enjoyed travel, biking and listening to classical and Big Band music.

A celebration of life service will be held at 11 a.m. April 27 at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, 5603 N. Charles St.

He is survived by his wife of 44 years, the former Edith Allers; two sons, Timothy F. Windsor of Des Moines and Dr. Andrew “Andy” Windsor of Guilford; a granddaughter; and many cousins, nieces and nephews. An earlier marriage to the former Mary Ann Sweeney ended in divorce.

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