High cost of housing compromises dreams

September 11, 2005|By KAREN HANNA


Five-year-old Jarrett Weiss would like to live in a house where he could hunt for snakes and frolic with a dog named Cobra.

For now, Jarrett and his brothers live in a subsidized town house in Noland Village. Their mother, Lee Weiss, said she would like to leave.

"I was trying to get out of there before I even got in there. No one wants to live in Noland," Lee Weiss said outside the Housing Authority of Washington County, where she has taken classes and seminars about money management and computer applications.


The divorced mother of four boys ranging in age from 4 to 12, Weiss said Friday she would like to move to a home of her own once she graduates from Hagerstown Community College, where she is studying to become a certified medical assistant.

"I've been out looking, and I found a house I like, and it's actually for sale, but I couldn't afford it," said Weiss, who is in her mid-30s.

For Weiss and her children, having a backyard would mean everything, she said.

"I've said once we get a backyard, they can have a dog ... They want a puppy," Weiss said.

Jarrett bashfully turned his face into his mother's sleeve. He played with a rubber snake and he said softly he would call his dog "Cobra."

Living in Noland Village has been hardest on her oldest son, Weiss said. He remembers playing in a big yard when the family lived together on Daycotah Avenue before Weiss and her husband divorced, she said.

Her husband suffered an injury in an accident, and mounting medical bills forced the family into bankruptcy, Weiss said.

"We went from paying a mortgage to paying a rent the same amount as our mortgage," Weiss said.

When the couple divorced, Weiss said she felt as if she had no other options but to accept government help. She gets little child support, she said, and arranging child care and classes around work often is a challenge.

Unemployment from her last job runs out in about two weeks, Weiss said.

Weiss said she worries she might not find a house she can afford comparable to the Noland Village unit where she and her family have lived for almost two years.

"The rents are just outrageous anymore," she said. "It's my best bet to stay at Noland 'til I can afford to get into a house."

Her oldest son still dreams of Daycotah Avenue, Weiss said.

"When the boys and I kind of get frustrated with the way things are going, we have this game we play where we talk about what city and state we might like to live in. We've talked New Mexico ... Colorado. What was it? Montana," Weiss asked Jarrett.

A lifelong Hagerstown resident, Weiss said she and Jarrett already know what they want.

"Kind of looking, kind of dreaming. I know my kids want their own yard, they want their own room," Weiss said.

Thirty minutes and nearly half a million dollars separate Hagerstown and Mercersburg, Pa., for one family hoping to buy its own home.

A lifetime Hagerstown resident, Maryann Pile, 28, sat outside a neighbor's home talking with friends as their children played on a recent Monday evening.

Chalk drawings decorated the short blacktop driveway leading to the town house on Bloomfield Court off Dual Highway, and aluminum trays of cold picnic trimmings covered a table. Bicycles of all sizes barricaded the apron.

Pile, who has three children ranging in age from 6 months to 10 years old, said she wishes she could stay in Hagerstown.

She and her husband, a licensed practical nurse at Washington County Hospital, became renters almost a year ago, she said. To take advantage of the strong housing market, they sold their Mount Aetna Road home for $140,000 - double what it cost when they bought it about five years before.

Pile said she and her husband looked at buying a house in the Foxleigh Meadows development. It cost $749,000, Pile said.

"The same house in Mercersburg is 280 (thousand dollars), and that's a big difference," she said.

Pile, a stay-at-home mother and part-time teacher's aide, said her husband is taking classes at Hagerstown Community College and the University of Maryland to advance his career. When the classes end next year, the Pile family will be able to move from their $1,600-a-month rental in Hagerstown to a brand-new home about a 30-minute commute away in Mercersburg, she said.

"The bad thing is, the rent here will be more than the house payment there will be," Pile said.

In four years, the value of Joe and Shari Strickler's house went up nearly $100,000. The couple can count it as a loss.

"Put it this way - we were renting this, and four years ago, the landlord wanted to sell this for 94, 95,000 (dollars)," Shari Strickler said. "It was appraised this year at 192 (thousand dollars)."

Joe, 34, and Shari Strickler, 33, are new homeowners. About two months ago, they bought the house near Daniel's Circle and Kelly's Lane that they had rented for 6 1/2 years.

They are enjoying the ability to make improvements on their own home, Shari Strickler said.

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