A near-empty chapel is becoming a common occurrence for Reverend Preston Palmer. The Seventh Metro Church at North Avenue is vast and according to Palmer, it could attract people for evangelism, community revitalization and missionary work.
However, Palmer’s vision is at risk.
As Palmer described the plight of his church, thirty seats sat empty and only 10 people were in attendance.
In 2016, the Gothic church was sent to tax auction after owing over $6,000 for overdue water bills. The debt was bought by a California investor and is currently seeking to foreclose on the building that is valued at $1.4 million.
The century-old Baptist church can be saved, if only Palmer can get enough money to pay the debt in full, along with the investor’s legal fees and interest. Palmer has requested the congregation to look to divine intervention.
“Well, Seventh, we are in a bind that we can’t fix,” Palmer said. “It’s not the ninth hours, it’s the eleventh hour.
“This looks like a job for Jesus. At noon every day this week, let’s pray: ‘God help us to save this building and build your church.”’
That predicament is not uncommon. In fact, investor Christopher Bryan has utilized limited-liability corporations to purchase liens on nearly 26 churches, predominately African-American, in Baltimore’s annual tax auction. Bryan filed paperwork to foreclosed on six of the churches and last month he took final ownership on one of them.
Bryan’s vision entails foreclosing on the building in deep disrepair and selling them to pastors that has the resources to fix them up and fill the pews.
“Everybody wins with an active church,” Bryan says. “The community wins, the congregation wins, the city wins.”
Many jurisdictions across the country and in Maryland, including Baltimore are trying to recover unpaid water bills and property taxes by offering the debt at auction. The process dates back to the 19th century in Baltimore.
Investors satisfy the city, pay the amount due and try to collect the charges themselves. It isn’t unusual for the investors to charge $1,500 in legal fees, 18 percent interests each year and hundreds of dollars in other costs. If these expenses are not paid, the investors will foreclose on the property.
Critics say the system is plagued with problems and puts property ownership at over potentially erroneous and small water bills.
Earlier this month, the city offered liens on M&T Bank Stadium and Oriole Park at Camden Yards, both are state-owned facilities. The move drew scrutiny from critics and city officials said they would cancel the sales and blamed the problem on a computer error.
In the same auction, the city offered liens on nearly 1,000 residential properties for unpaid water bills.
The Friendship Baptist church in North Baltimore was in the same situation earlier this year. Owing a $6,000 unpaid water bill forced the city to offer a lien on the building. The city sold the lien, even though the 1,200-member congregation paid the bill in full prior to the auction.