Sunday, July 19, 2009

Whatever happened to the Dollar Row House?

Row Homes! Get Your Row Home! $1 each! Historically designated! Just $1! Own a piece of Baltimore History! Just $1!
I consider the $1 row home to be the best initiative put in place by Mayor William Donald Scahefer. He had the honor of being Mayor when the initiatives of past mayors (D'Aleasandro both II and III, and Theodore McKeldin) but the $1 row home was all Schaefer.
The initiatives of Schaefer's predecessors focused on bringing jobs and tourism to Downtown Baltimore. Schaefer had the insight to see that in order for Downtown Baltimore to make a true turn around that it housing had to be thrown in the mix. He capitalized on the successful revolt on extending the JFX down Boston St. across the Harbor to meet I-95.Now why just $1? Well, the effected neighborhoods that hug Downtown were in shambles when the proposal was thought up. Part of the $1 purchase price was an agreement that the owner would completely renovate the house and restore it to its former glory. This would cost upwards of $100,000 in 1980s dollars. If these homes were sold for profit it would clean out the Bank Accounts of the buyers. Selling these homes for $1 would be a long term investment, and it paid off big time.
You know how the old saying goes; "If it ain't broke don't fix it" which begs the question; Why did they stop it? I think I have the answer. It was a very narrow scope of neighborhoods close to Downtown that the City wanted to gentrify.Since the $1 Row Home there have been other grass roots efforts of Homesteading throughout the City. Although some have proven to be successful none of them hold a torch to the $1 Row Home. Could its success be attributed to the three basic principals of Real Estate? Location, location , location. I don' think so.
So why not bring it back? Despite our economic woes there is a pent up demand for affordable housing in Baltimore. It doesn't get much more affordable than $1. Of course there's the clause that the new home owner would have to fully renovate and restore their new purchase but when it's all said and done it would still fit the bill for "affordable housing" this is an unorthodox approach to solving the City's affordable housing gap but it gets the job done. If executed properly, it will gentrify neighborhoods that are currently struggling.Neighborhoods that would benefit from the new $1 Row Home initiative would include Reservoir Hill, Pen Lucy, Barclay,
Edmondson Village,
and Mount Clare.

Now why these neighborhoods? They each have a certain something that's unique about them that may make them attractive to potential buyers and additional population would help the neighborhoods. First Reservoir Hill, it has some of Baltmore's most beautiful housing stock that's currently rotting. It's close to Bolton Hill and Druid Hill Park and is well respected by historians.
Now we come to Pen Lucy. With lots of Public Works projects in the works according to the Pen Lucy Master Plan, the neighborhood will already look more attractive. Pen Lucy is next to neighborhoods that have gentrified or never went into decline. Now it's Pen Lucy's turn.Next is Barclay. It's close to the up & coming Station North. There's also a plan to redevelop a large portion of the neighborhood so the $1 Row Home initiative would be made available only to the homes not slated for demolition. Barclay enjoyed a dramatic drop in Violent Crime in 2008 and I consider it to be a vital link between Mount Vernon and North Baltimore.Next is Edmondson Village. It's still rough around the edges but it has great potential. It will have a Red Line Stop, it's close to the redeveloping Uplands, and it backs to Baltimore's most unrealized gem; Leakin Park. It also has maintained a high rate of home ownership which is currently in Jeopardy. Residents are terrified of signs popping up promising to be buy homes for cheap by slum lords and will bring in renters who will bring the neighborhood into decline.
Ah Remington, it borders upon Hampden, Druid Hill Park, Charles Village, Station North, and Johns Hopkins University. Despite a small bump in crime it's still a very safe neighborhood. Its population is diverse with no racial tension and I've found it to be a very friendly neighborhood. So why does it suffer from a high vacancy rate? I'll examine that in another post. But $1 row homes will help the population swell.Finally, we come to Mount Clare. Like Remington it's yet to be rediscovered. Unlike Remington it has fewer advantages working in its favor. However, Carroll Park is in its backyard. It needs a better connection between the neighborhood and the park. It is near other SoWeBo neighborhoods that are gentrifying but its western border is the couplet of Monroe St. and Fulton Avenue. With a gentrified Mount Clare maybe the $1 Row Home initiative can cross the Monroe St. and Fulton Avenue.
As we look down the road to renewal we must ask ourselves certain questions. Will it work? What are the risks? Will Banks give loans to the buyers of the $1 row homes? The third question is what may throw a monkey wrench into this plan. Banks are failing and the ones that aren't probably won't want to finance home improvement loans to first time buyers who are taking, for lack of a better term a City Handout. Well, we're looking to our City Government to sell Row Homes its owns for $1 so lets look to the Feds to help finance the renovations. HUD, FHA, First Time Buyer Tax Credit, Economic Bailout Money, Historic Housing Credit, these are just some of the Federal Programs and Services that can make this proposal a reality.
So Whatever Happened to the Dollar Row Home? Why did it go away? Because it worked, that's why.


Gary said...

I 100% agree. This was a great plan and I think it should be re-implimented, city-wide. A friend of mine pointed out "well there has been inflation since the 80's so they might have to be more like $5 houses." But I think that's missing the point - the point is to get people to fix up abandoned homes and live in them (creating communities), not to make any money.

Also, as a side note, William Donald Shaeffer is the best politician this city has ever had...

Michael Lantz said...

Fells Point looks good.It seems like Fells Point and Canton are the only two stable places in the city to live.I agree that we need another mayor like William Donald Schaeffer again running the city.

Michael Lantz said...

I would like to see Baltimore City come back.I believe that Baltimore City need leadership like it had in Former Mayor William Donald Schaefer.

James McBee said...

Sounds like a good idea to me. I wouldn't really include Remington on that list though. From what I can see it's doing pretty well all by itself. Lots of new residents moving in, and lots of asking prices higher than the houses probably warrant. To me Remington stands in stark contrast to Reservoir Hill. The former is frankly a pretty ugly neighborhood which is on the upswing because it is very safe, and has good access to retail (via Hampden). R.H. on the other hand is a truly gorgeous neighborhood which seems to be in continual decline because of crime and lack of access to retail. Of course another factor is the cost of renovating. Even if you a buy a house for a buck in R.H., it is probably going to cost you upwards of 300K to fix it up. If you can afford that you are probably going to choose a neighborhood that doesn't have so far to go before it climbs back into the healthy category. Where as in Remington, most of the houses were never vacants, and are small enough that they can be rennovated for a much more modest sum. That said, I like the idea.

Anonymous said...

Excellent summary of a plan that could be reinvoked any time to bring dead neighborhoods back to life. There should also be a special incentive to attract law enforcement people. Having policemen sprinkled throughout would go a long way to instilling a sense of safety.

MA said...

The dollar homes, however, only worked, according to many, because the city owned entire blocks; entire neighborhoods. Therefore, when you have people fixing up an entire block, the neighborhood foresees quick change from gritty to well-maintained. If the dollar homes were reinstated, only parts of blocks would be restored, while many would not be renovated by those who already live on that block, as they likely don't have the resources that those in the dollar program would have. The program would probably not do as well as it did, however, it would probably have some, but likely limited, success.

Unknown said...

I believe you hit the right points and I share your same opinion. My question is what programs are available through the city to acquire some of these houses for someone like myself home want to not only help the city but acquire a property for a low non having to get a bank to finance me. But give me a chance to fix it up and get a head.

Politicalbear said...

I think there have been three attempts to sell off city housing, but the programs have failed because theyn have been geared to the developers, and no developer is going to risk going into a decaying neighborhood. However, there is an army of pioneers willing to spend their own sweat equity to make a home for themselves. I think it would be possible for the city to wipe out its backlog of houses in a couple of years with a $10 program, so long as the program gives people the time to make the places habitable on their own.

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