Dis­cov­er­ing a path to home own­er­ship

In East Baltimore, ren­o­vated houses, as­pir­ing buy­ers

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND - Jacques Kelly jacques.kelly@balt­sun.com

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.”

BARBARA HAD­DOCK TAY­LOR/BALTIMORE SUN

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