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Housing price hike gives city a chance to rebound

May 07, 2003

In just one year, the average sale price for Washington County homes went from $144,207 to $160,233, making it tougher than ever for families to find affordable housing. But the rising price of homes also means there's an opportunity for the City of Hagerstown to promote home ownership and redevelopment at the same time.

In February, officials of the Greater Hagerstown Committee's Urban Renewal and Historic Preservation Forum announced a plan to redevelop the downtown area.

Ed Lough, who chairs the forum, said then that Greater Hagerstown had been in contact with developers who want to renovate existing homes or demolish dwellings and build new ones that would sell at market rates.

Lough also said that some banks have agreed to provide low-cost financing that in some cases could turn into grants.

But the key to the plan is that developers want to do an entire block at a time. That makes sense not only because it would allow the electricians, for example, to do several houses at once, but also because it would be easier to convince people to buy if they're not the only new folks on the block.

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Such projects would not only improve the city's tax base, but would also provide new customers for businesses downtown and attractions like the Maryland Theatre. An obvious target market would be those seeking additional college credits through the University System of Maryland's downtown campus.

What this program needs is some more enthusiasm from the city's elected officials, who should be jumping for joy for two reasons. First, no one is asking them for any money for a project that should produce a new crop of taxpayers.

And unlike renters, who tend to leave at the first opportunity when a neighborhood starts going downhill, homeowners stay and fight because they have a financial stake in doing so. For the city's sake, the council needs to start leading the charge - and the cheers - for this effort.

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