On the surface, the dingy, rundown row house where Bertha Bluford lives with her five children looks much like thousands of others in depressed, inner-city Baltimore. The plumbing and the roof leak, plaster peels, drains stop up, and the head keeps breaking down.
But there is one difference: Her landlord is White House political director Lyn Nofziger, who, along with President Reagan's personal secretary, Helene Von Damm, has been speculating since 1979 in depressed Baltimore and Washington properties.
"Ain't this something? It's amazing," Bluford said today when asked if she knew Nofziger owned her $130-a-month row house. "A man working for the president, and I'm living in one of his houses." Bluford, a welfare and food stamp recipient, has lived in the house at 700 E. 20th St. with her five children since late 1978.
Nofziger and Von Damm each own three run-down Baltimore properties, and Nofziger owns a fourth in Washington. Each has recently been cited for separate housing code violations -- Nofziger for a vacant house that city inspectors deemed a "blighting influence;" Von Damm for flaking paint and defective exterior woodwork on a house near Memorial Stadium.
Von Damm and Nofziger refused comment on the condition of their properties after their ownership was revealed today by Scripps-Howard News Service. A White House press office statement issued late today said: "They both share a commitment to decent housing. If, after review, they find things that need to be done, they will do them."
The two bought the properties as investments in 1979, when thousands of Washington speculators bought up abandoned and decaying Baltimore rowhouses at prices of $10,000 and lower. Von Damm was quoted by Scripps-Howard as saying she had never seen the properties. Both bought the houses through Robert Tuttle, a former Reagan advance man now involved in real estate.
According to Baltimore tax assessment officials, all six properties have all increased in value since Nofziger and Von Damm bought them.
Most of the properties are located in neighborhoods where the city has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal urban renewal funds that the Reagan administration has targeted for cutbacks. Those programs "unquestionably" helped increase property values in the neighborhoods, city housing officials said.
For example, Nofziger bought the vacant house that was cited for a housing code violation in December 1979 for $3,700. It is now appraised at $5,800, tax assessment officials said.
It is located at 1149 Cleveland St., two blocks from an industrial building the city renovated with an Economic Development Administration grant; the city also spent $296,000 of federal community development funds in the neighborhood last year, rehabilitating abandoned houses and aiding development of a new medical center, officials said.
Several of Nofziger's and Von Damm's tenants are welfare and food stamp recipients, who said they did not know that they had landlords in the White House. The properties are managed by a Baltimore firm, Inner City Management, and the tenants complain that the managers rarely respond to their complaints.
Jessie Elmore, who lives in one of Von Damm's properties, at 1523 Abbotston in Baltimore, said she had called the management three times and written two letters complaining about heat that doesn't work and her leaky bathroom. "There's a puddle every morning and every night," she said.
Elmore expressed disbelief when she learned that Von Damm is Reagan's secretary. "She works for the president?" she exclaimed. "Well, why doesn't he send somebody out to fix our heat?"
The most dilapidated of all the houses is one owned by Von Damm at 1565 Carswell, which was cited last month for a code violation. Anita Watts, who lives there with her husband and son for $150 a month including utilities, said she was to embarrassed by the condition of the house to let a reporter inside.
Von Damm bought the houses rented by Watts and Elmore together in 1979 for $15,000. They are now worth $17,500 according to city records. Von Damm's third house, located at 3500 West Garrison Ave. in West Baltimore has increased from $10,000 to $11,120 in value, the records show.