NeighborWorks America in Baltimore

St. Ambrose is a member of the NeighborWorks Network. NeighborWorks America is a congressionally chartered organization that supports a network of 240 organizations across the nation who share a collective vision of building strong communities and creating affordable housing opportunities.

In late July NeighborWorks staff and network members gathered together for a peer sharing of lessons learned and best practices from our work. It was a reunion of the Northeast and Southern regions of the NeighborWorks network and Baltimore had the special privilege of playing host to this diverse and driven group of housing and community development leaders.

While enjoying the conference and learning from our peers, we connected with a few of the attendees to find out what they learned at the meeting, and what they loved about Baltimore!

Maybeth Morales-Davis, Director of Development and Public Relations at Neighborhood Housing Services of Waterbury: Waterbury, CT

Maybeth

Favorite meal in Baltimore?

Oysters at Ryleigh’s Oyster in Federal Hill

Something you’re excited to take back to your organization?

There are so many things that I have to take away, but especially being more organized. I know that I can save so much time with an editorial calendar and making the time to create a plan will be a big help in the long run.

James Ross, Relationship Manager at NeighborWorks America  in New Orleans, LAJames ross

Favorite meal in Baltimore?

Crabcakes at Koco’s!

Something interesting you learned in Baltimore?

Learning about how eHome America started. I knew some of the founders of the program, but I didn’t know how everyone was really brought together to make it happen- that was really cool.

Amanda Meyers, Marketing Manager at Housing Development Corporation MidAtlantic: Lancaster, PA

Amanda Meyers.jpgFavorite meal or experience in Baltimore? 

Eating in Little Italy and coming out to see the lights strung up around the neighborhood. Walking around the harbor, watching the paddle boats, stopping by the World Trade Center for a moment of Reflection at the Sept. 11th memorial.

Best thing about the NeighborWorks convening?

New connections! Networking with peers and understanding how each other’s shops work was extremely beneficial. I’m leaving with names and email addresses of people I can continue to connect with when I get back to my organization.

My St. Ambrose Story

115.IMG_1307

Thanks to everyone who came out for our Stoop Storytelling Event! We had a wonderful time reflecting on St. Ambrose stories, both new and old. If you missed the event, we have some good news! We’ll be sharing the Stoop Stories in our 50 Stories in 50 Weeks campaign to commemorate our 50th Anniversary.

What’s the 50 Stories in 50 Weeks Campaign? Each week for 50 weeks we’ll publish a new St. Ambrose Story from the last 50 years to highlight the people and places that have made St. Ambrose the organization it is today. The stories can be found at Stambrose50.org. You can even submit your own story if you have one to share!

 

Four Strategies to Revive Homeownership

It’s not looking good for homeownership these days. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 63.7 percent of households owned their homes at the end of 2016, down from a peak of 69.2 percent in 2004. While there have been small increases in recent quarters, the homeownership trend since the financial crisis continues to trend downward. We need to reverse this pattern, and these four strategies will help.

IMG_1005

First, we have to demystify the process. More than two-thirds of adults in an Oct. 2016 national household opinion survey from NeighborWorks America described the homebuying process as complicated. Our network’s counselors report that a common refrain from customers they help to achieve homeownership is, “I never thought I could do this.” Because the purchase process is so complex, many potential homeowners don’t even try, essentially self-selecting out of their piece of the “American Dream.”

Increasing the homeownership rate in Baltimore will energize the local economy and create jobs from construction to retail.

Second, we have to return to rational credit standards. We shouldn’t return to the loose underwriting of the early 2000s. However, right now, credit standards are too tight and thus reduce the prospects for homeownership for many. A recent article by the Urban Institute noted that innovations in credit scoring practices could help up to 3 million first-time homebuyers across the country. Some of them certainly live here in Baltimore. The lending industry must seriously pursue such modifications.

Third, we need to do a better job in reaching out to low- and moderate-income consumers. These are the first-time buyers of the future and they are unsure about the path to homeownership. Nonprofit housing organizations have had a “field of dreams” mindset: if we’re here, homebuyers will find us. That’s not working. The NeighborWorks survey mentioned above also found that fewer than 10 percent of consumers think of nonprofits like St. Ambrose first when considering how to achieve homeownership. Our organization and others working to increase homeownership, especially among first-time buyers, need to act more like businesses and seek out these types of customers. Word of mouth isn’t enough.

Fourth, we must overcome financial obstacles. Home prices are increasing in nearly all markets. Here in Baltimore, the median price is approximately $102,750, and the stereotypical 20 percent down payment is out of reach for most first-time buyers. However, the truth is, consumers don’t need a 20 percent down payment to purchase a home these days. In some cases, just a 3 percent down payment is required. However, not every lender offers flexible mortgages.

homeownership graphic

By working with St. Ambrose and other housing nonprofits, consumers will learn about the lenders who offer 3 percent down-payment mortgages. In addition, they also will be made aware of the potentially millions of dollars in down-payment assistance funds available to Baltimore home buyers. The NeighborWorks survey showed that only one-third of consumers are aware of down- payment programs for middle-income buyers.

While there isn’t an unlimited supply of down-payment assistance, if more consumers knew to seek it and sought information from nonprofit organizations, the homeownership rate would increase. That’s good for individuals, families and Baltimore.

Lelia finds her home in Belair-Edison

IMG_1020

We caught up with St. Ambrose homeowner Lelia Kimbrough for a few minutes between her workday and her son’s baseball game one afternoon last week. Lelia bought her newly remodeled St. Ambrose home in the neighborhood of Belair-Edison in August 2016.

Lelia’s beautiful new home actually sits on the same block of the house she rented when she first moved to the neighborhood many years ago. Lelia loves the neighborhood for its diversity and openness. She takes advantage of the trails in Herring Run Park and loves the azalea bushes that brighten up the neighborhood every spring. She commented on how the neighborhood’s diversity really makes Belair-Edison a special place to live, “I like the mix of people and ideas and plans. You get a variety of houses and it’s local, but close to transportation, too.”

For Lelia, the homebuying process was straight forward. She completed her home buyer education course with Druid Heights CDC and was very mindful of being prepared with all of the necessary paperwork every step of the way. Lelia received closing cost assistance and grants from both local and national sources. She qualified for a Vacants to Value grant, a grant from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, as well as closing cost assistance from the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA). NFHA grants are available through St. Ambrose to our new homeowners through NFHA’s Inclusive Communities Grants Program.Lelia commented on her home buying process, “I did not have a bad experience. Once I decided on the property, everything just flowed.”

What attracted Lelia to the house was the open kitchen and the added bathroom and closet space. Lelia’s done a great job making the space her own, both inside and outside. Her favorite find for her home was a beautiful wrought iron patio set she picked up second hand for $45.

In her short time as a homeowner she’s already participated in block events and clean-ups, shared gardening supplies with her neighbor, and developed a good rapport with the kids who run around on her block. She enjoys meeting new neighbors, and sometimes even gets help with bringing her groceries in from the neighborhood kids. Lelia’s adamant about getting a lot of neighbors involved with clean-up projects and neighborhood events.

IMG_1006Lelia will be the first to tell you that Belair-Edison is a strong community with a good spirit, but that its success depends on everyone working together and contributing to making Belair-Edison a great place to live.

We’re delighted to have yet another good neighbor living in one of our beautiful St. Ambrose homes. Congratulations, Lelia on reaching your goal of homeownership, and thank you for helping to make Belair-Edison a great place to call home!

Lelia shares her home with her two sons and 3 yorkies. Her oldest son plays football at a college in Scranton and lives with her part-time, while her youngest son is 14 years old.

IMG_1010
Happy to call her home her own

Want to learn more about Lelia’s beloved neighborhood? Check out Belair-Edison’s neighborhood website.

What’s your St. Ambrose Story?

Stoop Cover Photo2

This June 8th, St. Ambrose invites YOU to join us at the Motor House to tell one true and personal story about the impact (little or big!) that St. Ambrose has had on your home or your community. Bring a story to share or just come to listen! Thinking of telling your St. Ambrose story? Here are 5 tips to help you prepare:

  1. 1. Tell ONE true, personal story. Tell a story about a single experience, moment,  conflict, or challenge from your time with St. Ambrose. The 3-minute time limit is firm, so don’t bite off too big a tale to tell.
  2. Tell a story that means something to you. Listeners care when they know the storyteller cares. How did the events of the story you’re telling change you, even in a small way? How does the story reveal something larger about St. Ambrose?
  3. Start close to the action. Begin your story so that you can get to the heart of it pretty quickly. Often the clearest beginnings are the best: “In 2006, I came to St. Ambrose for….”
  4. Leave out anything that’s not vital to the story you’re telling. Did we mention it’s just 3 minutes? 🙂
  5. Share your story as if you were telling it to a group of friends. That means no notes, no scripts, no memorizing. Take the risk of being honest and vulnerable. The more you can be in the moment, the more powerful a connection you can forge with the audience.

Tickets to the event are $25 and include a complementary happy hour at 6:00 PM followed by the Stoop Storytelling show and dessert. You can purchase tickets here. If you have any questions about the event, contact Carla at 410-366-8550 x 245 or email carlah@stambros.org.

You're Invited Stamp

 

Aigburth’s Solar Upgrade

IMG_0774

GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic , a non-profit organization that makes solar power and job training accessible to under-served communities, and volunteers from Constellation energy installed a 90kw cost-saving solar energy system at Aigburth Vale last week.

GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic is able to provide the solar energy system with the support of Constellation.  Savings from the system will help fund ongoing renovations to preserve Aigburth Vale as affordable senior housing.

Built in 1868 by architects Niensee and Neilson as a country home for actor John E. Owens, the historic Aigburth Vale mansion was turned into affordable senior housing in 1999 by St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center and our partners.

The 90 kW solar energy system, which will offset common area energy usage, will result in approximately $15,000 of savings on electrical bills annually. The savings will help St. Ambrose provide the 70 residents with multiple improvements to each unit, including new kitchens, handicap accessible bathrooms and new HVAC units, as well as upgrades to the common areas, including a new roof, common area furniture, floors, gym equipment, computers, a back up generator and elevator upgrades.

The solar energy system will prevent 2,347 tons of greenhouse gas emissions from entering the atmosphere, and is the equivalent of planting over 50,000 trees.34165992135_26aba9b219_z.jpg

On April 20th, 20 volunteers from Constellation came to help with the installation of the solar panel system. The day kicked off with an announcement of the project and a celebration with stakeholders and sponsors.

 

34035202341_d89be8c502_k

Congressman John Sarbanes praised St. Ambrose for the development and preservation of Aigburth Vale over the last two decades and discussed how the partnership that enabled the solar panel installation at Aigburth Vale should be used as a model in communities across the country to help further the impact of solar energy.

Councilman David Marks commented on the importance of appreciating local history and the environment as well as effective partnerships as three components of a thriving community.

Other speakers included Gerard Joab, executive director of St. Ambrose, Bill Rubin, director of rental services, Nicole Steele, executive director of GRID Alternatives mid-Atlantic and Gary Fromer, senior VP of distributed energy at Constellation Energy.

34049636981_e1230c89a5_k
Left to right: GRID staff member, Nicole Steele, Congressman Sarbanes, Gerard Joab, Gary Frommer, Councilman Marks, Jane Wilson

33323500004_89eb517da4_k.jpg33781239230_ec1c23c033_k.jpg33796126090_5cff6f869d_k.jpg33796109320_135e9679ea_k.jpg34139979156_1299288a79_k.jpg

Pictures by GRID Alternatives and St. Ambrose

An Update from the Legal Department Regarding Water Bills and the Tax Sale

By Christina Ochoa

Every year when spring arrives, the lawyers at St. Ambrose begin to receive many worried phone calls related to May’s tax sale in Baltimore City. A tax lien certificate can be sold for an unpaid water bill, unpaid property taxes, or an environmental control board citation. The attorneys here have represented clients in informal hearings about disputed water bills in order to help homeowners avoid the tax sale and straighten out their bill.

water bill christina
Evelyn Anderson (left), a client who was facing a $1,300 water bill and Staff Attorney Christina Ochoa (right)

 

This year, things got a bit tricky, because in October of 2016 when the city switched from quarterly billing to monthly billing, they also eliminated the hearing process. As advocates it has been a very difficult transition because we have homeowners with bills into the thousands of dollars who would like to meaningfully dispute their bill with an impartial third party, but no longer have any mechanism to do so.

In response to these changes, St. Ambrose has become very involved with trying to initiate change and also work with the city in different individual cases. City Council President Bernard “Jack” Young and Councilman Robert Stokes called for an investigative hearing to be held where the Department of Public Works was to address several different issues, including missing bills, the informal conference, and erroneous bills. Advocates from other organizations as well as Baltimore City homeowners and business owners offered testimony as to the experience they have had with very high water bills and the general disorganization of the Department of Public Works. We called on DPW to reinstate a hearing process to protect homeowners from potentially losing their homes over an erroneous water bill. Charlotte Clarke, an attorney at St. Ambrose, went into detail about a specific property where the bill was over $44,000 and expressed the clear necessity of a hearing process to address this type of problem.

As of yet, no changes have been implemented. The tax sale occurs every year in May and the deadline to pay in order to avoid tax sale is April 28, 2017, so we are hoping for some meaningful resolution prior to that time. Through our tax sale workgroup, we have invited the Director of Public Works, Rudy Chow, and all the members of the city council to meet with us to discuss the city’s next steps. Hopefully our local government and our Department of Public Works will accept our group’s invite and come up with a solution that protects our residents. In the meantime, our team will remain committed to serving Baltimore residents in many different affordable housing related cases, including water bill disputes.

If you, or someone you know, is in need of free legal advice or assistance regarding a water bill or tax sale notice, please don’t hesitate to call us: 410-366-8550 x249 or email legal@stambros.org.

Or visit one of these upcoming clinics: 17917657_1408357049184886_3061156531151684134_o