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A revived ‘Dollar House’ program in Baltimore could work — if done correctly | READER COMMENTARY

Oldtown's Stirling Street, shown in 2016, was Baltimore first concentrated Dollar House homesteading neighborhood. In 1974, dozens of renovators paid a token $1 for homes constructed in the early 19th century. The early renovators refurbished single homes or combined two properties into one. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun).
Oldtown's Stirling Street, shown in 2016, was Baltimore first concentrated Dollar House homesteading neighborhood. In 1974, dozens of renovators paid a token $1 for homes constructed in the early 19th century. The early renovators refurbished single homes or combined two properties into one. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun). (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

Reviving Baltimore’s dollar house program is a wise move. As someone living in one of the “dollar homes” in the Otterbein neighborhood, I know first hand how a brick shell of a house ready for the wrecking ball can be turned into a beautiful, livable home. But I also know how easily the restoration projects can result in gentrified neighborhoods, as it has in Otterbein, turning predominantly Black neighborhoods into enclaves for affluent white homeowners. That’s why City Council President Nick Mosby’s plan to make the homes available to legacy residents in areas that have been passed over by developers or suffered from redlining makes so much sense.

However, there are holes in Mr. Mosby’s homesteading plan, which is why the Baltimore City Council should listen to suggestions from housing advocates who support the dollar house project and want it to be successful (“Housing advocates share concerns about proposed revival of Baltimore’s Dollar House program,” Dec. 20). The bare bones plan Mr. Mosby laid out tells potential owners, “Once you buy the house, you’re on your own.” They would have to hunt for banks to loan them money and contractors to do the work, opening the door to the possibility of businesses exploiting inexperienced homebuyers and guaranteeing that many of the projects will fail.

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The city should provide low-interest loans or work with banks who will provide them. It should create lists of approved contractors to choose from. The city might be able to negotiate with businesses to provide discounts on building supplies and appliances. And city employees should be readily available to help guide the new owners through the process.

Let me add another suggestion to the list: Hire neighborhood residents to work on the building crews to increase the financial benefits to the neighborhood. Contractors can be offered subsidies to hire and, if necessary, train community people in the skills needed to work in the building trades while paying them the going rate for their labor. That will bring more jobs into the community and prepare workers for continued employment in the building trades and elsewhere.

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The additions to Mr. Mosby’s Dollar House plan will make the project more complicated for the city, but they will simplify the process for the buyers and greatly improve their chances of success.

David Safier, Baltimore

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