Discovering a path to home ownership
In East Baltimore, renovated houses, aspiring buyers
Anisah Best, a 26-yearold East Baltimore woman, recalled the incident that made her get serious about buying a house in her East Baltimore neighborhood.
“I remember coming home from work and seeing two women walking around. They were scouting houses to buy,” she said. “This was the moment I realized I had to act.”
She lives along East Preston Street in the Broadway East community, not far from Johns Hopkins Hospital. She was born in the nearby Oliver neighborhood and has watched these two communities hit bottom, then begin to recover.
She now rents a renovated rowhouse that adjoins an embankment past which Amtrak trains travel, in the heart of a rebounding neighborhood where 320 homes have been rebuilt. Of that number, about a third have been sold, and the other two-thirds are rented at market rate or affordable levels.
Not long ago, she recalls, these blocks were close to deserted.
“There was a time when East Baltimore people felt they had to leave the neighborhood and move on,” she said.
“But now an example has been set. You don’t have to leave. Look at what’s been done in spots like Patterson Park or the new Eager Park at Hopkins. It’s really bittersweet. Houses were abandoned for years, and now people are returning.”
Almost every home along her block has been reclaimed in an $85 million campaign to upgrade this section of the city. Last month, these blocks received a Historic Preservation Award from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.
Best now faces a moment of financial truth.
Buying a home, she found, is not all that easy.
“I am not the person I once was,” she said. She was born in the neighborhood, attended St. Francis Head Start, Madison Square Elementary, and Dunbar and Lombard middle schools. Her teen years were deeply troubled. Her mother, who was addicted to drugs, died of AIDS, she said, and Best was raised by her grandmother, who lives in the 1000 block of Caroline St.
Best got her GED when she was 16 — she missed high school — and studied information technology for four years at Towson University. Along the way, she accumulated $60,000 in student debt.
“I now have a good job and I’m looking to buy a house,” she said.
She found a flyer that asked, “Are you interested in buying a home?”
She made a call and discovered the Anisah Best, who grew up in East Baltimore, is working with the Pathway to Homeownership program to buy a house in the reviving neighborhood she knows. BUILD organization (Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development) was working with TRF Development Partners, a nonprofit created from the federally certified Reinvestment Fund. The two groups are trying to attract homeowners and renters to Oliver’s renewed blocks.
Best is now enrolled in the Pathway to Homeownership program, a set of classes sponsored by BUILD and St. Ambrose Housing Services designed to turn 20 neighborhood residents into homeowners. She takes the classes at Memorial Baptist Church at Caroline and Preston streets.
“We teach about the importance of saving money and how to budget,” said the program’s instructor, Terrell Williams, a BUILD organizer. “We talk about the obstacles of how bad credit issues can be really big. We also want to teach what makes a good neighborhood. How you can have the power to fight liquor stores.”
He said his students face tough choices: “We talk about not buying expensive things in order that you can afford this house. We take a holistic approach.”
“I see the direction Baltimore is going,” Best said of her decision to stay in the neighborhood. “I’ve been looking around and saying to myself, ‘Why should I move to the Columbias, Laurels, Towsons and Silver Springs to live in a nice area?’ I don’t have to.”