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City program must join forces with redevelopment agency

February 26, 2004

Want some help with your rent payments or the closing costs on your purchase of a home? The City of Hagerstown has bonus cash available, provided the place you want to rent or buy is in the downtown core.

This seems like a good incentive to draw people with disposable income to downtown. But it needs to work together with the community development corporation formed to purchase and renovate blocks of housing stock downtown.

The new program is called the Downtown Residency Initiative and grew from a suggestion made by Hagerstown City Police Sgt. Kevin Simmers.

It works like this: Those who buy or rent property in an area of the downtown bounded by Cannon Avenue, Baltimore Street, Prospect Street and East Avenue/Church Street would be eligible for certain payments - $100 a month for renters and a one-time payment of $1,500 for purchasers.

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Not everyone can get the cash, however. To qualify, you must have graduated from college or have been honorably discharged form the military.

State, federal and local government employees are eligible, as are students and staff of the University System of Maryland's Hagerstown Education Center. Finally, a group of professionals - teachers, police and health-care workers - would also qualify.

With a pool that large, it wouldn't seem difficult to qualify in one category or another. It might even prompt some to enroll for classes at the USM Center.

But what downtown really needs is good housing stock to attract people with disposable income. A community development corporation has been formed to renovate or build new properties. That's a task we feel is crucial, not only to increasing property values and the tax base, but to build a community of people who will have a stake in what happens downtown.

It's not that renters aren't good people, but if the neighborhood where they live begins deteriorating, they can leave when their lease is up. Buyers have an investment for which they'll stay and fight.

The redevelopment group has been renamed Hagerstown Neighborhood Partnership Development Inc. It has the authority to put together deals anywhere within the city, but we feel its board should concentrate first on residential properties in downtown. Once housing values improve there, it will be a whole lot easier to do deals in other areas of the city.

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