Ashlee Harbaugh hadn’t been living in Baltimore more than two weeks before she found herself under curfew. Six days after it was lifted, she was pursuing her dream of owning a home in the city.
Harbaugh, 26, was one of more than 225 people who turned out last weekend for the nonprofit group Live Baltimore’s twice-yearly housing fair. The young woman, who had moved to Maryland for a job at Amazon’s new distributing center here three weeks ago, said she signed up for the event a few days ago without any worries over the rioting that began in the city two weeks before.
“Truthfully, I never had a bad experience in the city,” she said.” I think the situation could have happened in any metropolitan area.”
Organizers of the Buying Into Baltimore event were pleased and relieved that many others reacted just as Harbaugh did.
Steve Gondol, executive director of Live Baltimore, said that more than half of those who signed up did so after the riots began. He said none of the attendees or exhibitors who agreed to attend earlier canceled as a result of the unrest that followed the death of Freddie Gray, who died of injuries received in police custody.
The fair, which Live Baltimore has been sponsoring since 1998, brings together a wide variety of government agencies, nonprofits, businesses and neighborhood groups with an interest in promoting homeownership in Baltimore.
As she toured the exhibit hall, Harbaugh stopped at the table of the Greater Greektown Neighborhood Association, where local resident Kim Brooks praised the advantages of the southeast Baltimore enclave — one of the neighborhoods closest to Harbaugh’s new workplace.
On hand to represent the northwest Baltimore community of Ashburton was Beatrice Scott, president of the local neighborhood association.
“We have a reputation in terms of quality housing, pleasant neighbors, a lot of interest in education,” said Scott. “We’re well known for our block party. It’s a staple of the community.”
One visitor to Scott’s table who didn’t require any selling was Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who grew up in Ashburton. The mayor arrived early in the morning and spent more than an hour touring the fair.
Rawlings-Blake said she was encouraged by the turnout and the sense that “the best days are yet to come for Baltimore,”
“The spirit of our city is resilient and it’s strong,” she said.
Some groups were there to allay concerns prospective home buyers have about city life — especially the school system.
Matt Hornbeck, principal of the Hampstead Hill Academy, and Sara Gerrish, a pre-kindergarten teacher at the public charter school, came to make the case to prospective homeowners that a child can receive a high-quality public education in Baltimore.
Hornbeck said his school has the same mission as Live Baltimore: “to present reasons why families should come and stay and live and play in Baltimore.”
In classrooms and labs along one wing of the aging high school, housing professionals conducted three hours of workshops for aspiring homeowners. Kathleen Lauman and Mary Jo Determan of Primary Residential Mortgage led a class of would-be buyers through the mortgage application process, while John Meagley of the Department of Housing and Community Development explained state programs that encourage homeownership.
When the workshops ended, Live Baltimore offered a choice of four bus or car tours of different parts of West Baltimore — East Baltimore will get its shot at the September fair — including open houses at a dozen available properties.
Mary Glover, 30, of Baltimore chose to check out a large detached single-family home she had seen listed for $214,000 in the northwest Baltimore community of Garwyn Oaks — a neighborhood she hadn’t heard of before event, though she’s rented in Baltimore for eight years.
“Baltimore has so many neighborhoods that are only four blocks long,” the New Jersey native said.
Glover liked the house but not enough to buy it. She said she’s leaning toward the Lauraville area of northeast Baltimore, partly because it’s closer to her nursing job at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
While some of the fairgoers were in the early stages of considering whether to buy in the city, Glover’s ready to make her move.
“I’m buying within the next two weeks,” she said.
Glover she never considered changing course because of the rioting.
“Baltimore is always going to always be a city that has an unpleasant history,” she said, “and you’ve just got to be able to check off the other positives in your life.”