Homesharing gets Published!

Our Homesharing program is featured nationally in NeighborWorks America’s new book, “NeighborWorks Works: Practical Solutions from America’s Community Development Network.”NeighborWorks Works is a collaboration book that showcases the NeighborWorks network’s innovative solutions in affordable housing and community development.

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Homesharing, which began matching homeowners with tenants  in Baltimore City in 1988, is recognized in the book as a unique and impactful solution to the challenge of creating affordable housing. Through a new program expansion, “Parent-Child Homesharing,” supported by the William J. and Dorothy K. O’Neill Foundation, Homesharing is now growing into a housing solution for families too!

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St. Ambrose is featured alongside 2 other Baltimore organizations and countless more from across the U.S. Each page tells the unique story of an innovative solution that is helping to strengthen and empower our communities.  The book illustrates the incredible and far reaching impact that community development has on the communities where we live and grow.

With a donation of $25 or more to the Homesharing program, we will send you a copy of the NeighborWorks Book, complimentary! On the donation page there is a question where you can indicate that you would like a copy of the NeighborWorks Book.

Go ahead- Donate now.

Amazon’s Alexa comes to Aigburth-Vale

St. Ambrose is participating in a project through the AARP foundation to address isolation among older adults in our senior housing community, Aigburth-Vale mansion, in Towson, MD.  Residents who volunteer to participate in the program are given the Amazon Echo, a voice controlled speaker, to use at home, and the AARP Foundation will track volunteers’ usage patterns.

51xen2uyoyl-_sl1000_According to Amzon’s website, “Amazon Echo is a hands-free speaker you control with your voice. Echo connects to the Alexa Voice Service to play music, provide information, news, sports scores, weather, and more—instantly. All you have to do is ask.”

After a successful initial prototype trial at Aigburth and 3 other senior communities this summer, the project will be expanded in early 2017 to reach seniors all over the country including a larger group of residents at Aigburth-Vale. The goal is to find and advance an innovative solution to reduce the risk of social isolation among older adults.

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Al from AARP speaks to Aigburth residents about the risks of isolation and the Echo project.

Al Browne, who is leading the program at the AARP foundation, made a presentation last week for interested residents to learn more about the project and how to participate. Al explained that participants’ engagement patterns will be tracked in an attempt to show three things: people over the age of 50 will want the echo and will use it, ‘skills’ (apps for the Echo) can be created to improve the health of older adults, and investors will be interested in helping to make the echo more affordable for seniors.

Al told the group that for the 12 million older adults living alone in the United States they “gradually disconnect from friends and family.” According to AARP’s website, social isolation is “the result of multiple causes, including poor physical and mental health, poorly designed communities, and major life events such as loss and retirement.” Research also shows that “the health risks of prolonged isolation are equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.” The AARP foundation is looking for an easy to use technology that could have a positive impact on quality of life of seniors living alone.

The echo was an obvious choice for a number of reasons. The voice assistive technology is simple to use and ideal for an older adult whose sight or motor skills may be deteriorating. The echo provides news and information, and can play music and audio books, all of which help to keep users more connected to the world. But Al comments, sometimes it’s less about the information received, and more just that the technology “feels more human.” You can also ask Alexa to tell you a joke or even give you advice. Users have reported feeling empowered by being able to share the technology with their families and friends.

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Edwena, an Aigburth resident and Echo user.

Edwena, an Aigburth resident volunteered at the meeting, “I took it on vacation and everyone loved it! It brought everyone together, from the little one’s on up and afterwards they said, ‘make sure to bring it next time’”

Al has heard this from participants from other communities too. A man from Miami took Alexa on a cruise and commented that he “felt like a rockstar.”

Al is working with experts in gerontology from across the country  in an effort to enhance the product to better address the needs of older adults. In addition to the device’s basic functions, Alexa has the ability to learn “skills” which are like apps that can be installed for the echo. Al’s goal is to identify and develop skills that would promote positive health outcomes for seniors.

Residents at Aigburth had the opportunity to make suggestions for how to make the product most valuable for them. The most common suggestion: “Could Alexa call a family member or an emergency number in the event of a fall?” Though not one of Alexa’s current ‘skills,’ Al has been advocating for this capability. Everyone at Aigburth agreed, emergency assistance would be a major selling point for older adults and their families.

“Can I dictate a story about my childhood to Alexa?” one resident wondered. Al was enthusiastic about the idea that Alexa could help seniors to journal or record oral histories.

And, “What if Alexa could provide reminders about when to take what medications and when to have meals,” a resident’s caretaker questioned.

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Joyce, a resident’s caretaker at Aigburth offer suggestions for how to move the Echo forward.

Input from Aigburth’s users and from senior users throughout the country will help to guide leaders in pushing for improvements to the voice assistive technology that can be catered specifically for the needs of seniors.

Leslie, an Aigburth resident and early participant in the Echo project commented said she uses her echo in this way: “In the morning when I get up, I probably ask for the weather so I know what to wear. I make my shopping list, and if I take a nap, I ask it to wake me up.” Though Leslie commented that she just used Alexa for menial things, it’s easy to see how Alexa is able to offer a little extra help for daily activities.

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Leslie (left) and Nancy (right) are both Echo users

Many residents were excited about the prospect of the program continuing, and the current echo users at Aigburth have been encouraging their friends and neighbors to get on board with the expanded project.  Nancy is probably Alexa’s biggest advocate at Aigburth-Vale. Though Nancy is very active and engaged in her community, she acknowledges that there is a great need among her peers for the kind of social diversion that Alexa offers.

Requirements to participate in the program include having a smart phone and access to WiFi. Both of these things proved to be an obstacle for participants to sign up this summer, but St. Ambrose staff made it a priority to enhance the building’s WiFi and now, each room at the mansion has a strong wireless internet connection. There is a growing list of Aigburth residents who are looking forward to participating in the program. Residents who participate will receive a free Amazon Echo from the AARP foundation that they will get to keep even after the project ends. Volunteers will complete a survey before the program starts, and then they are just asked one simple request: use it!

Get involved this #GivingTuesday

We’re lighting up N. Charles Street to Celebrate  #GivingTuesday – and we need your help!

We’ve joined #GivingTuesday, a global day of giving that harnesses the collective power of individuals, communities and organizations to encourage philanthropy and to celebrate generosity worldwide.

Occurring this year on November 29, #GivingTuesday is held annually on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) and the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday to kick-off the holiday giving season and inspire people to collaborate in improving their local communities.

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The centerpiece of St. Ambrose’s #GivingTuesday celebration is a display on Baltimore’s giant LED Board located at 1700 N. Charles Street. The LED Board, which is the largest on the East Coast between New York City and Atlanta, will track progress towards our giving goal from 6-8pm on #GivingTuesday and will be updated to recognize donors who have given to the campaign.

3 ways YOU can support St. Ambrose this #GivingTuesday

  1. Donate through qtego.net/home or text HOME to 74121 to give. All donations made this month will count towards our goal- so there’s no need to wait to give!
  2. Join our Giving Event at UB’s Angelos Law Center on Giving Tuesday! Tickets are $25 and include hors d’oeuvres, beer and wine, and stunning city views. Plus you can be part of the celebration as we climb towards our #GivingTuesday goal!
  3. Share your love for St. Ambrose with one, or all of your friends! You can make a difference by telling a story about what St. Ambrose means to you or help us make new friends by sharing our posts on Facebook and Twitter.

We’ll update this post regularly as we get closer to the big day! Thanks for your support and feel free to get in touch with any questions.

Homeowner Spotlight: David Blenman

David Blenman, a paramedic firefighter in Baltimore County, purchased a St. Ambrose home in the Glenham-Belford neighborhood in Northeast Baltimore at the end of last year. We stopped by his home this week to see how he was settling in and making the house his home.

Blenman got connected to St. Ambrose through his realtor, and after touring several Cape Cod homes he was surprised to find that the Glenham-Belford home was such a perfect fit.What attracted Mr. Blenman to his home was the size and the openness. The yard was an added benefit, which is spacious but manageable.

The open layout is actually one of the home’s new features. When St. Ambrose Housing Development acquired the home in 2015 we removed a wall to enlarge the kitchen and incorporate it more fluidly into the living space. St. Ambrose also added new flooring, cabinets, counter tops, light fixtures, and appliances.

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For Blenman, the homebuying  process was straightforward and really exciting. Blenman completed his homebuyer education course through Harbell and was diligent about completeing all the necessary paperwork in a timely way.  As a first time homebuyer, Blenman qualified for the Grand Slam Program through the city as well as closing cost assistance from the National Fair Housing Alliance, which is made available through St. Ambrose. Everything really fell into place for Blenman, and he was actually able to close on his home two days ahead of schedule.

It was an exciting time when he sat down to do the math on what he could afford when it came to buying a home. Not only is his monthly payment just as manageable as a rent payment, “it’s mine,” Blenman commented significantly.

And he really has made the home his own. The house is fully furnished and impeccably cared for, complete with a rec room in the basement and a master bedroom suite upstairs, features that add comfort and privacy to this compact home.

As Mr. Blenman points out, between the yard and the living area, it would be easy to host a family function without feeling too crowded, but the home is also a comfortable size for himself and his 14 year old son who lives with him part time. It was also essential that his daughter, who is stationed in Seattle with the Navy, has someplace to come home to.

St. Ambrose homes are offered first to teachers, firefighters, policemen, and emergency personnel as part of HUD’s “Good Neighbor Next Door Program.” The Good Neighbor program encourages our community’s public servants to support neighborhood revitalization by becoming homeowners.  When asked what Blenman is most proud of in his 6 year career with the fire department, he said “just being capable of doing the job.” He admits it’s not for everyone and that it takes heart to go into the fire.

Blenman certainly lives up to the “Good Neighbor” name, before buying his home he had rented an apartment in an older gentleman’s home on the west side of town. Blenman was both a tenant and keeper, taking care of some maintenance items around the house and checking in with his landlord periodically to ensure all was well.

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On buying his own home, Blenman admits humbly, “sometimes I come home and I’m still in disbelief that I’m a homeowner.”

 

Baltimore City Water Rate Increase – Flushing Your Money Down the Drain?

By Charlotte Clarke, Senior Law Clerk

Earlier this summer, the Baltimore City Department of Public Works (DPW) announced a three year plan to increase water rates by almost 33% by 2019: 9.9% on October 11, 2016, 9.9% on July 1, 2017, and 9.9% on July 1, 2018. DPW Director Rudy S. Chow announced in late August that the final quarterly water bills will arrive for city consumers in September, and the new monthly billing system will start in October.

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The stated purpose of the increases is to cover the cost of various water and wastewater capital improvements, pursuant to the Director’s duty to recommend rates and charges so that water utilities are self-sustaining. On its website DPW explains that the average age of the City’s large water mains is 75 years, and renewal or replacement is required in many sections. There are also additional costs associated with the new BaltiMeters, which are promised to ensure accurate and timely meter readings and to overall be more customer-friendly.

Valid as some of these reasons may be, they all sound vaguely familiar. In July of 2013, rates went up by 15% to fund the new state of the art  BaltiMeters and billing system. The increase “ensured” faster repair and replacement of aging infrastructure. In 2014 the rates increased by 11% in order to replace water mains and provide more accurate and reliable water meters, and to improve the billing system. DPW has also publicly stated that in the last 19 years they completed almost 20 miles of water main replacement and rehab.

It is hard not to wonder how the increased funding from prior increases was spent, and how it is that so much more new funding is already required. Does it really cost 33% to create a more customer friendly system? Aren’t there alternative ways to make the system more customer-friendly?

In addition to begging these questions, the new rate structure itself is also puzzling. The old rate structure applied a minimum quarterly charge set by meter size, and it was assessed until the property was formally abandoned, plus a consumption charge that is calculated by cubic feet of water use (units). DPW explained that with the new rate structure they are eliminating the quarterly minimum charge. According to the Board of Estimates Agenda for July 27, 2016, the new water bill is determined by applying a variable rate to each customer’s consumption and adding a fixed rate component. It seems like the DPW is simply replacing the terms “minimum quarterly charge” with “fixed rate component,” because essentially they are identical terms that add a standard charge to everyone’s bill.

Apparently this new structure will encourage water conservation and ensure that bills are more accurate. However, the new structure applies the same rate per unit to all users and replaces the declining block rate which gives a lower rate per unit of water for those using very large volumes of water. How does this encourage water conservation? If those who are using a large consumption of water have a lower rate per unit, how does that encourage one to use less water?

So where did all the money go from the rate increases last year? The rate increases last year did not provide better customer service or more accurate billing. The Legal Services Department at St. Ambrose regularly receives calls from city residents similarly complaining about high water bills which DPW is unable to justify. The informal water conference process in place to dispute such bills was a non-judicial process in which evidence was scarce and there was no right to appeal the hearing officer’s determination. This process routinely left homeowners stuck with high bills and without any further way to contest them.

There is clearly a drastic need to reform the DPW and the billing system beyond simply turning quarterly bills into monthly bills. As of now it is unclear how the rate increases are necessary for reform, or what the full scope of the reform will be. According to the Board of Estimates Agenda for July 27, 2016, DPW began testing the new system and started training their employees on its use. However, an employee from St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center recently spoke with individuals in the DPW billing department and customer service department. She asked various questions about the specifics of the new increases and no one could provide any information whatsoever in regards to the increases.

We at St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center hope the reforms bring improved accuracy in billing, a meaningful appeals process to contest erroneous billing, and clarity as to how the rate increases help achieve these ends. Our organization deals with water billing regularly, as we provide services for low to moderate income families with housing needs. Many of our clients will be greatly impacted by this massive increase in their water bill because they are already struggling financially. Last year we represented a client for his water bill hearing. He hoped to adjust his water bill because his water meter was replaced five times and still continued to provide faulty readings of his family’s consumption. In the end, with the help of St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, the bill was reduced by over two hundred dollars which made a huge difference for our client and his family. However, not all residents are so lucky in challenging extremely high water bills. The city often refuses to adjust their bills leaving struggling homeowners in risk of tax sale.

St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center will always provide help or guidance to those struggling with their water bills, but we also provide housing counseling services, affordable rental housing, homesharing services, and legal services relating to housing. Not only will this rate increase affect low to moderate income families, but also the organizations that are trying to help these families secure stable, affordable housing. We understand that sometimes rate increases may be necessary, but the families who bear the burden of these increases deserve transparency and results.

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Talking Homeownership with Pam Petty

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June in National Homeownership Month! To commemorate the occasion we sat down with Homeownership Counselor Pamela Petty to learn about the role she plays to help her clients become happy Homeowners. Pam has been a St. Ambrose Homeownership Counselor for 19 years.
What’s your favorite part about your job?
The folks! I love seeing their faces when they come in and realize that they can buy sooner than they originally anticipated. I love helping my clients understand what funding is available to help them reach their goal of homeownership.
A lot of times my clients come in with a lot of nerves about the home buying process. Being able to explain the process to them helps to settle their nerves and relieve some stress about buying a home. When I’m able to show them that they have more control over the process and the partners they choose to work with, I can see them becoming more relaxed. I love seeing my clients walk out the door with more confidence and settled nerves about the home buying process.
What’s the most common misconception that your clients have?

Sometimes people come in thinking they can afford more house than is realistic for their income. Another misconception is that many people don’t understand the importance of good credit.

What’s your vision for a better Homeownership department:
I think a standard counseling certificate for the whole state would better serve many of our clients. You don’t always know where you’ll find your perfect home. It would be helpful if the counseling certificate was universal for the whole state rather than being separate for each jurisdiction.
It’s great that we offer eHome America to allow clients to complete their homeownership workshop online. I think we need to continue to use technology to serve our clients better and make our counseling program unique.
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Pam with her client, Leslie H., after their one-on-one homeownership counseling session.
What is National Homeownership Month? Here’s an excerpt from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Press Release:

WASHINGTON – This week, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) kicks off National Homeownership Month by recognizing how homeownership enhances lives and contributes to thriving communities we call home. “Dare to Own the Dream” is the theme of this month-long recognition, reinforcing the long-held belief that owning a home remains one of the cornerstones of the American Dream. Read President Obama’s National Homeownership Month message. 

When President Obama took office nearly eight years ago, the nation’s housing market was in free-fall, unemployment was rising and many families were left feeling trapped and anxious about their mortgages. He immediately took action to address these issues and to protect the middle class. The steps he took helped millions of Americans stay in their homes, save money on their mortgages and turn their communities around.

“Homeownership Month is a good time to reflect on the progress the Obama Administration has made to ensure that owning a home is always within the grasp of the average American family. A home is the place where we raise our children, establish roots in a community and plan our future,” said HUD Secretary Julián Castro. “The opportunity to be a homeowner should be open to those ready and able to buy a home.  As the housing market continues its recovery we must ensure that responsible homeowners have access to credit to make their dreams of homeownership a reality.”

Interested in learning more about Homeownership Counseling at St. Ambrose?  Visit the website to explore your options.

Homesharing Spotlight: Ed and Ousmane

Ed and Ousmane are Home sharers in the Mayfield neighborhood, a cozy community of detached homes nestled between Lake Montebello, Herring Run and Clifton Parks. Ed, who’s been sharing his home through St. Ambrose since 2011, is a longtime advocate of shared housing.  For Ed, it’s a healthy stimulator to live in community with others, and some of what it takes to be a good roommate is a mindset of compatibility and a willingness to communicate openly.

Ousmane, who joined our community of Home sharers in February 2016 is blind, and was referred to St. Ambrose through a job readiness training program. When he graduated from his job training program, he was able to swiftly transition to Homesharing, perfectly matching with Ed.

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“One Step at a Time”

From his new home, Ousmane waits at the corner to catch the bus to his work south of downtown Baltimore. On his return trip, he takes the bus to one block north of his home in order to cross at the controlled cross walk. When he reaches the cross walk, he listens for the cycle of traffic to stop to know when to cross the street. He knows the timing of the lights by memory, and always waits for a complete cycle to pass through before he ventures across the street, white walking stick leading the way.

Sometimes a neighbor will offer him guidance to walk across the way, and Ousmane always graciously accepts, “it’s part of their spirituality” to offer assistance, but each day for Ousmane, crossing the street is another opportunity to practice and learn. Another walk across the street is another step towards the independent lifestyle he enjoyed before he lost his sight four years ago.

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Ousmane, who is originally from Senegal, moved to the US in 1996. When he went blind in 2012, he had a lot to learn on his path to living independently again. For Ousmane, Homesharing is an experience in the “School of Life” and a way to live self-sufficiently, while in community with others. “It’s a daily self-assignment and a challenge to make sure I’m acting correctly and on the same page with others… I can always improve myself and my communication.” Ousmane wakes up around 5 am each morning to get ready for work. He moves silently about the house, taking great care with every step. Ed describes Ousmane’s movement as “ninja-like,” but for Ousmane, a heightened sense of hearing makes him very mindful of moving quietly at an early hour.

Adaptations- making the house a home for Ousmane

When Ousmane first moved in he carried around raised bump locator stickers and received assistance to mark buttons and switches around the house for guidance. There’s a dot to identify the start button on the laundry machine and three dots on the microwave to identify the number 3, the start, and the clear button. Another practical adaptation is a paper bag to place his mail. Ousmane has an app on his phone that he uses to scan and read text when he shops for food, reads mail, or checks paper money.

It didn’t take much to make Ousmane feel comfortable in his new home. One final adaptation that’s in the works-“Well, we’ll need to expand the garden,” Ed mentions. Ousmane is a vegetarian and the backyard garden is certainly a point of community pride and unity at the shared Mayfield home.

What is the best part about Homesharing?

For Ousmane, he finds that he is at peace in his new home,”living in sync with good people inspires me to be my best self.”

For Ed, Homesharing stretches his comparability and comfort zone, and “it’s a way to act locally and build bridges in the community.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

Interested in Homesharing? Call 410-366-6180.

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A front porch garden that appeals to all the senses

Karen Heyward-West named one of Maryland’s Top 100 women

Karen Heyward-West, Director of Homesharing, was recently recognized by the Daily Record as one of Maryland’s Top 100 Women for 2016. The highly accomplished list of honorees includes leaders across sectors and communities. St. Ambrose gives a warm congratulations to all of this year’s nominees. Below is an interview with our own award recipient, Karen Heyward-West.

 

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Karen at the Awards Reception, April 18, 2016, Meyerhoff Symphony Hall
One of the categories for an honoree is being recognized for mentorship. What is your advice to young women who are interested in being leaders in the the non-profit or human services field? 

 The first thing I always say is you have to check in with yourself often to make sure it’s still your passion. Whether you’re advocating for the environment, for young people, or for families, you always have to ask yourself: Are you passionate about what you’re doing?

As one of Maryland’s top 100 women, you’re in good company! On the list of fellow nominees, who is someone you really respect and why? 

There are so many! On the present list, I’d have to say my sorority sister Sharonne Bonardi, Deputy Comptroller of the state of Maryland. Shes’ the first African American to hold the position and her story about how she moved up the ranks in the Department is really inspiring. Working in such a male dominated field and being the first African American in her position, she faced so many challenges, but she really committed to her job, not for herself, but for the women who came after her. As a public servant it’s not about you, and I really admire her commitment to being a leader for women in her field.

Of previous nominees, I would say Margaret Williams, of The Maryland Family Network. She’s been out there for more than 30 years fighting the fight to support young families, and she’s grown the network from just a few centers to many.
In your opinion, what makes Homesharing such a great program for the community?
I think because it’s unique and obtainable. There are not several hoops to jump through or waiting lists to get on- there’s a beginning, middle, and end all in the near future. We’ve placed people in a week, we’ve place people in 3 days. It’s an obtainable solution to the lack of affordable housing. It’s real.
What is the best part about being the Director of Homesharing?
The best part of this position is being a part of change. This position allows me to effect change in people’s lives and spread the good news about the outcomes of the program. Homesharing really is the best kept secret, but I get to help share what Homesharing can do for an individual and for a community.

Financial Coaching Workshops come to North Barclay Green

North Barclay Green Community Center at 2001 N Barclay is a community space provided through Neighborhood Partners and Telesis and is open daily to connect neighbors to resources, provide programming for all ages and interests, and work to make Barclay a great neighborhood to call home.

St. Ambrose offered a one day financial education workshop in February at the center and was invited to host a four week financial coaching workshop series this spring. We sat down with the center’s community organizer Tarahn Harris to catch up on what’s going on at the North Barclay Green Center and to get his perspective on financial education in the neighborhood. Tarahn works with Ms. Lottie Snead to bring programming and resources to Barclay residents.

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So, how do financial coaching services contribute to the overall vision for moving the community forward?

Neighborhood Partners has 7 core values to support the neighborhood, one of those values is financial empowerment.

The workshops provide information that’s accessible that can help residents see new options for themselves and envision a different future. Neighborhood residents can see that even if they don’t have the job they want right now, they can still set goals- and that’s the impact and the importance of financial education for the neighborhood.

What was the response from neighborhood residents about the financial workshop?

There’s been a lot of good feedback, and I think community members are just grateful to be exposed to the information. The workshop is presented in a way that is super engaging, which makes it easier for the residents to embrace the information. What’s really great is that St. Ambrose is accessible to the community so that physical barrier is gone. It’s important to connect people to resources that they can walk to.

What impressed you about the Financial Education workshop this winter?

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Denitra Braham, St. Ambrose Financial Coach, answers a participant’s question at the February workshop

It’s refreshing to have the information presented in a way that is fun! There was such a wealth of information and the way it’s presented is accessible and engaging.The question and answer section was really helpful and participants at the workshop were made very comfortable, even with a subject that’s usually sensitive.

What other services are offered at the center and through its partners?

Community round tables about nutrition and diabetes, community gardening, help for returning citizens, job readiness support, youth programs like a bike club, Monday night cooking classes with a local chef… and more!

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With a background in social work, community organizing, and family counseling, Tarahn serves Barclay with a  breadth of knowledge on how to have a positive impact on other people. He’s hitting the pavement to make sure Barclay residents are connected to the resources they need- no matter how big or small. As Tarahn wisely noted, “Communities thrive through partnerships,” and we’re happy to have Tarahn and the crew at North Barclay Green to be out there connecting neighbors to resources and providing a great community space for the Barclay neighborhood.

St. Ambrose begins Historical Preservation of homes in Winters Lane, Catonsville

With support from Baltimore County and the State’s Community Legacy program, St. Ambrose is beginning the preservation and renovation of 10 duplex rental homes in the historic black community of Winters Lane in Catonsville, MD. Though St. Ambrose has a long history of doing quality renovation and rehabs to Baltimore area homes, the historical significance and value of these particular houses has had a great impact on our approach to completing the renovations. In the Winters Lane Community, it’s not just about improving the quality of the home, doing energy efficient upgrades, installing new appliances, and making an investment in the community at large. Preserving these homes for their historical value is critical to the project’s success. The extensive renovations  will maintain the historical character of the 100+ year old homes as a celebration of the heritage and historical significance of Winters Lane .

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Winters Lane is one of 40 historical black communities in Baltimore County. Source: Baltimore County Department of Planning

Winters Lane is a historically African American community founded by freed slaves following The Civil War. Officially added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 2007, the history of Winters Lane is well documented thanks to the research of Louis S. Diggs, author of the 1995 book entitled, “It all Started on Winters Lane.” In his book, Diggs primarily takes a genealogist’s perspective to the history of the black community in Catonsville. Diggs’ book draws on oral histories, historic newspapers, census and civic documents to describe in the fullest detail the life and times of the community as it grew and flourished in the years and decades following The Civil War. As we move ahead by making a necessary investment in the future of the community, it is critical to look backward to honor the amazing accomplishments and resilience of Winters Lane.

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In the August 19th, 1961 edition of the Baltimore Afro American newspaper, journalist Elizabeth Oliver introduces the community in this way:

In the Catonsville Development, just two miles from Baltimore’s Western City limits, sprawls the near perfect example of suburban living, homeownership, and community spirit. There is no undertaker here and but one physician, since citizens are interested in living. The welcome mat is always out to summer visitors who find the community a nice place to visit.

The article goes on to describe the community’s picturesque residential gardens and winding lanes, high rate of registered voters (4,000 in total), its ample opportunities for civic and social engagement, and the resolute commitment of the community’s leaders and business owners. This glowing depiction of a harmonious and thriving community is reinforced throughout the pages of Diggs’ book, most conclusively in the oral histories provided by residents who grew up in the community in the first half of the 20th century. In the face of rampant institutionalized racism during the Jim Crow era, the tight knit community of Winters Lane burgeoned and prospered.

The settlement was founded in 1867, one year after the civil war ended. Some of the original founders came into deeded property upon being released from slavery, while others migrated to the settlement from other parts of Maryland and purchased property along Winters Lane in the late 1800’s. Due to segregation and the distance from Baltimore, Winters Lane became a largely self-sufficient community.

In 1868, J.W. Gould donated a tract of land and old school house on the corner of Winters Lane and Edmondson Avenue. The building became the community’s first church, known today as Grace A.M.E ., as well as the first school for black children, School #23. Grace A.M.E. is still an active community church today, though it moved to its present location in 1890. At least 5 churches were founded within the next few decades and the school expanded and moved to accommodate a growing community.

William Washington and Charles Woodland were two of the prominent business owners and home owners in the community’s early days. The Washington family owned one of the first community grocery stores, also on the corner of Winters Lane and Edmondson, which served as an additional community meeting space. According to the oral history of Eva Adele Page Brooks in Diggs’ book, the top floor of the grocery store also housed the classrooms of the 5th and 6th grades in the 1920’s.

 

Left: The Washington Grocery Store built in the 1800’s has been demolished. Right: The Charles C. Woodland House, built in 1874, was  purchased in 1914. The house is registered with the Maryland Historical Trust. 

Washington and Woodland were two of the founding members of The Catonsville Cooperative Corporation. The Co-op was founded in 1890 as a way for local residents to pool their resources to support new businesses. One venture of the Co-op was the Greenwood Electric Park which was a wildly successful amusement park that attracted African Americans from all over the Baltimore metro region. At the time of the Co-ops disengagement in the 1960’s, there were 523 shareholders.

The Weekly Clarion was a local newspaper that first circulated in 1919 as a newsletter for the Grace A.M.E. church.  It soon became a community wide voice with a small editorial staff and control board.

greenwood electric park
Advertisement in the Baltimore Afro-American July 16, 1910
Clarion Policy
June 2, 1934 edition of The Weekly Clarion. Source: “It All Started on Winters Lane”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Civic and social organizations thrived throughout the 1900’s including a football club and baseball club, homeowner’s organization, and various men’s and women’s social clubs that organized community service activities and hosted dances and social gatherings.

Left: A present day picture of Landmark Lodge #40. The Masonic Temple was established in 1904 as a lodge for the Freemasons. The chapter is still active today. Right: 1930’s photograph of members of the Emma Williams Temple. The temple was founded in 1925 and is still active today.

The tradition of strong community organization in the early years of the community paved the way for one of the most active organizations still involved in community affairs today. The Concerned Citizens of Catonsville was founded in the 1980’s to encourage an open dialogue about the increasing crime rates in the Winters Lane District. Today, the group advocates for community revitalization projects, coordinates crime watch patrols, and gives voice to current neighborhood concerns. A legacy of strong leadership continues with the Concerned Citizens of Catonsville who have forged robust community partnerships to fight for for redevelopment and new investment in Winters Lane.

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The rehab and preservation of the historic homes on Shipley and Roberts avenues is just a first step to preserving the resilient community for the future. The homes will be updated to meet current building codes, the living spaces will be expanded and modernized and the exteriors restored. The goal is to maintain the historic character and architecture of the homes, meeting the requirements of the Maryland Historic Trust, while making an investment in the quality of the homes and ultimately the community as whole. Renovations will begin this spring, but the preservation and investment in the Winters Lane community is an enduring project that will ultimately include the preservation of additional homes and new development of affordable homes.

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Sources/ For more information

Diggs, Louis S. “It All Started in Winters Lane.”1995. website

Catonsville Patch: “Winters Lane on a Winters Day”

Maryland Historical Trust: Woodland House

The Afro American July 16, 1910

Baltimore Sun “Winters Lane Masonic Temple”

Baltimore Sun “Winters Lane National Night Out”

Baltimore Sun “Revitalizing Winters Lane to be discussed”

Baltimore Sun “County considers Historic Preservation”

Baltimore County Government “Historic Winters Lane Home to be Restored”