Remember when you could buy a house in Baltimore for one dollar? If you’re under 45 you may not, but the Baltimore Architecture Foundation will host a program September 29 to examine Baltimore’s successful urban revitalization program from the 70s that allowed residents to buy homes for a buck and explore whether it — or some other equally motivating urban renewal program — should be resurrected today.
The Dollar House Program began in 1973 and instantly captured the nation’s attention as a revitalization tool. It helped revive abandoned and neglected Baltimore neighborhoods, including Barre Circle, the Otterbein, and Stirling Street. The program’s success spurred a surge in urban homesteading, resulting in the redevelopment of nearby Baltimore neighborhoods such as Federal Hill. Houses were sold at modest prices—but much more than one dollar—to individual buyers who then invested their own money and sweat equity to rejuvenate the dilapidated housing stock, collectively rebuilding the neighborhood into a desirable place to live.
What accounted for the Dollar House Program’s successes? The simplicity of the idea of the Dollar House program resonated with buyers — become an urban pioneer by purchasing this deteriorating building for one dollar and then renovating into your home with the assistance of low-interest government loans! But, in fact, program successes were the result of complicated coordination and careful planning by local, state, and federal government agencies. Attention to detail was lavished upon the communities through infrastructure planning and design guidelines for the new homeowners. Funding from the city and the federal government, the availability of a large number of city or HUD-owned properties, and the installation of sewer and water lines, streetscaping and street repaving, park planning and installation, were key to the success.
As neighborhood revitalization continues to be an issue in Baltimore and other urbanized areas across the country, people remember the success of the Dollar House Program and wonder why it has not been resurrected as a solution to today’s desire to revitalize communities. Are there elements of this program that can usefully be replicated 40 years later? Are there lessons to be learned from each of these programs that can spark the excitement about urban homesteading that was manifest in the Dollar House program? While participants in the Dollar House program were pleased to receive a house for one dollar and have low-interest government loans available to renovate the house, the sense of participating in community building to create a vital, lively, exciting urban neighborhood was equally important to them.
Registration for the symposium, which will take place at the Old Otterbein Church, 112 West Conway Street, is available through BAF’s website, www.baltimorearchitecture.org. The event costs $25 for individuals, $15 for students with valid student id, and $75 for architects and planners who anticipate using the symposium’s CEU. The admission charge will include printed and web-based materials, lunch, and a neighborhood bus tour. Registration will be limited to 150 persons. Prior registration is required for attendance.
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