Lelia finds her home in Belair-Edison

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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.

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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?

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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.

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Aigburth’s Solar Upgrade

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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.

 

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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.

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

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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.

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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

Emergencies don’t have to be financial disasters; start saving now!

You’re laid off at work. Your car needs a new transmission. Your furnace blows. These are all costly emergencies that can’t usually be anticipated and cannot be avoided once they occur. Without a fund set aside just for such emergencies, they can trigger even greater disasters.

Last year, NeighborWorks America released the findings of its third annual consumer finance survey. Chief among them is the alarming fact that nearly a third of adult Americans (29 percent) have no emergency savings. Ninety-one percent of those with incomes of $100,000 reported holding emergency savings, compared to just 30 percent of who earn less than $20,000, 63 percent of those with incomes below $40,000 and 78 percent of those with incomes between $40,000 -$50,000.

There also were significant differences by race and education. The highest percentages of households without any emergency savings at all were reported by African-Americans, adults with lower incomes, and among those with a high school education or less.

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A good rule of thumb is to have enough funds set aside to cover three to six months (some say four to seven) of living expenses. This will give you enough time, for instance, to find a new job or supplement your unemployment benefits until you do. However, anything in the bank is better than nothing — and $500 will get you out of many scrapes that would otherwise put you in the hole. In other words, start small if you have to, but start.

Here are a few tips:

  • Set up a savings account just for this purpose. Separate it from the accounts you tap into on a regular basis so you’re not tempted to dip into your reserves. Do not get access to it via debit card. And if you are issued a checkbook, hide it.
  • Arrange the automatic deposit of a portion of your paycheck into that savings account. Most employers allow direct deposits into multiple accounts. This is the most painless way to create a regular savings habit; you won’t even notice it! But make sure you’ve created a realistic budget. Otherwise, you’ll be pulling money out of savings regularly to pay bills, defeating the purpose.
  • Keep the change.When you get $1 and $5 bills after breaking a $20, drop some in a jar at home. When the jar fills up, move it into your savings account. And if you have money left after paying your bills at the end of a pay period, move some into your emergency fund.
  • Save your tax refund. The average refund is in the thousands, which can give a good boost to your emergency savings. When you file your taxes, consider having your refund directly deposited into your emergency account. Alternatively, adjust your W-4 tax form so that you have less money withheld, and direct the extra into your emergency fund.
  • Cut back on costs.If you’re still falling short on saving, track your spending for a month to find discretionary expenses you don’t really need. Meals out, stops at coffee shops, drinks with friends all add up fast, but you may not realize how much you’re spending in total until you’ve put it on paper.

Remember: Expenses you should be able to anticipate, such as holiday gifts and annual auto insurance payments, are not emergencies! One of the most common problems people have with emergency funds is forgetting to plan for one-time expenses each year.

St. Ambrose is a member of the NeighborWorks America network of nonprofit housing and community-development organizations and we have staff that are trained and certified to offer financial education and coaching to help you follow these guidelines. Our financial coaches can help you realize your goals, encourage you along the way, and hold you accountable on your journey. Emergencies are upsetting enough. Don’t allow them to turn into financial catastrophes as well. If you’re interested in meeting with a financial coach, call us at 410-366-8550 ext. 235 or check our webpage: https://www.stambros.org/pages/financial-coaching.html

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Leslie and Rosalyn, proud graduates of our “Invest in Your Future” workshop series

Baltimore Sun article leads to an unexpected outcome for a St. Ambrose client

A story published in the Baltimore Sun last week highlights the struggles and stress that plagues Baltimore City Homeowners who try to contest atypical water bills through the Baltimore City Department of Public Works. St. Ambrose attorneys are working with the DPW and with Baltimore residents to provide guidance in navigating the process of challenging water bills. Since October, however, the appeals process that had been in place to contest water bills has been dismantled and residents’only option is to fill out a complaint form.

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left to right: staff attorney Charlotte Clarke, St. Ambrose client Evelyn Anderson, staff attorney Christina Ochoa.  Baltimore Sun Video by Amy Davis.

The decision to eliminate the appeals process was not announced and poses a major threat to the housing security of many Baltimore City Homeowners who no longer have an opportunity to openly discuss erroneous bills. Our legal department works with clients every day who receive inexplicable water bills that range from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars (Don’t believe us?). The elimination of the appeals process creates an especially grave situation as the tax sale deadline approaches and homeowners with unpaid water bills, even grossly inaccurate ones, run the risk of their home going into tax sale foreclosure.

Though city processes have a long way to go to become more equitable for residents, in the short term, much needed relief came for our client Ms. Anderson who was featured in the Baltimore Sun article and was facing a $1,300 water bill. An anonymous donor contacted St. Ambrose to arrange to pay the bill. In fact, eight people reached out to the agency to inquire about contributing to the bill and providing support for other clients who face the risk of losing their home due to water bills.

Staff attorney Christina Ochoa comments on the outpouring of support from the community, “in an industry where we’re so often the bearers of bad news, seeing people’s generosity was really uplifting.”

UPDATE: The Baltimore Sun published a follow up story here: Good Samaritans Step Up

Community Development Network Day in Annapolis

St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center is a member of Community Development Network of Maryland (CDN). CDN is a group that represents the interests of housing and community development organizations across the state. Although Maryland communities are diverse in so many ways, CDN unites community organizations on our shared goal of making our communities great places where people can thrive and have access to opportunities. The network gathered in Annapolis to meet with legislators and discuss some of the pending legislation this session that could improve and strengthen our communities.

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left to right: Director of Housing Counseling, Cara Stretch; Staff Attorney Christina Ochoa; Special Assistant to the Executive Director/Compliance Officer, Phillip Westry

We heard from law makers and had the opportunity to connect and share our on-the-ground experiences as community development professionals. By providing testimony and education about how Maryland laws impact our clients, we can be confident that our legislators have an educated perspective to make decisions that will strengthen communities and people. Below are a few of the highlights from our state legislators and leaders:

sam_0261House Appropriations Chairwoman Maggie McIntosh discussed the necessity of housing and addressing poverty if we are to expect strong education outcomes. Delegate McIntosh also emphasized the importance of passing the HOME act during this session to end discrimination in housing based on source of income only.

SAM_0254.JPGHouse Environment and Transportation Committee Chairman Kumar Barve commented that we can’t expect health outcomes or education outcomes to be achieved until we have a safe secure place to live. Many of the bills that impact the community development field are introduced in the House Environment and Transportation Committee.

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Land Use and Ethics Sub Committee Chair Steve Lafferty reiterated the importance of the work of housing counselors in Maryland for not only foreclosure prevention, but also to prepare Maryland families for the future through homeownership counseling and financial literacy.

SAM_0270.JPGMaryland Department of Housing and Community Development Secretary Kenneth Holt emphasized the bright future ahead for communities across the state and discussed initiatives to reach the state’s goal of eliminating homelessness.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Maryland government and the general assembly, check out Maryland Manual Online .

If you’re interested in learning more about the work of Community Development Network check out their website here.