The economy may still be in disarray as the housing market continues to be bombarded with foreclosures, but that hasn’t stopped one organization from creating new homeowners.

Park Heights Renaissance (PHR) is a non-profit community development organization focused on revitalizing the Park Heights community. PHR’s goal is to implement the Baltimore City Park Heights Master Plan, where land and economic development, alongside human development, are transformative influences in the revival of the community.

One way it’s accomplishing the mission is by offering various initiatives and programs, such as “Clean Sweep Team,” which is dedicated to cleaning the streets, alleys and open areas in the Park Heights neighborhood, and by offering mentorship, tutoring and youth development activities at Pimlico Elementary/Middle School.

True empowerment, however, allows people to rely on themselves. Saunie Tubman, manager of housing services in the PHR community and economic development department, also a licensed realtor, teaches a monthly class called “Truth in Lending.” Geared toward potential homebuyers, the class instructs participants how to reduce their monthly bills and repair their credit scores in order to secure a mortgage loan.

“Working with potential homebuyers is a rewarding job,” Tubman said. “It’s rewarding when you don’t have a monetary gain in it. Your job is to help them find the best financial option that’s going to get them to the closing table.”
Tubman is proud to say her efforts have not been in vain.

Dorothy Thomas has lived in Park Heights for 21 years and finally became a homeowner in August. Thomas attended PHR’s “Truth in Lending” class in February. Out of 33 residents who have participated in the class, she is the first to purchase a home.

“ let that security blanket go to get on the road to home ownership,” Tubman said. “She’s purchasing her first home and she’s not that young. For me, security is home ownership. For me, that’s life-changing.”

Tubman found Thomas an end-of-group row home that was in foreclosure and being offered at less than market value. Because the house was in need of some repairs, Tubman helped Thomas apply for an FHA 203K rehab loan, which would allow her to finance the construction costs at a fair interest rate.

PHR hopes that Thomas’ success will lead to other residents following her example.

“This is recognition that the neighborhood is still desirable for homeownership, and it’s an affordable place to live,” PHR President and CEO Julius Colon said in a statement. “We have incentives—$3,000 which could conceivably go up to $9,000 with the state matching funds—that could go toward closing costs for people who buy in the Park Heights community. We would love to see more people take advantage of these homebuyer incentive programs in Park Heights.”

The fact that Thomas was able to purchase a home in this current economy is quite an accomplishment. According to foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac Inc., Maryland had the 10th highest number of foreclosures in the country in July with 6,961. Of those foreclosures, 864 (12 percent) came from Baltimore. To date, Maryland has had a total of 40,817 foreclosure filings.

Though economic woes such as unemployment and reduced income continue to contribute to the high foreclosure rates, PHR is committed to increasing homeownership in the northwest community.

“In the process of transforming the Park Heights community, increasing homeownership opportunity is going to be instrumental in order to make Park Heights a community of choice,” Tubman said. “Although our mission is to change the physical infrastructure, we have to change people’s lives—we have to empower them first.”


Kyle Taylor

Special to the AFRO