Baltimore Store Supports American Economy

The economy has been on the forefront of people’s minds for a few years now, but the good news is, stories about the economy are beginning to change. Many (I would venture to say most) were hurt in some way by the economic collapse in 2008 and many, unfortunately, are still feeling the after-effects. However, as we endure over time, we are able to restore ourselves to normalcy and even recognize our role in helping to restore the national economy. Baltimore, it seems, is ahead of the curve.

The owner of the Baltimore-based Falls Road Running Store has articulated his role in fueling the economy in a nationwide competition to promote the importance of retail in the national economy. Jim Adams illustrates the direct impact his store has had on his community: with the profits from shoe sales, Adams can pay his bills and his employees, who in turn make purchases that allow others to earn money and support other businesses. He describes a full cycle in which the money he earns is spread throughout the community, benefitting several various businesses and individuals before eventually making its way back to his store. People invest in his shoes and he invests in his community. Rinse, repeat. Everybody wins and the economy grows.

Jim Adams is one of five businesspeople (the only one from Maryland!) to be recognized by the National Retail Federation and will be featured in their national campaign. Watch his video below:

In what ways do you support the economy? Locally? Regionally? Nationally?

Childlike Approach

I remember being very interested in building things as a child. I don’t think this made my childhood unique in any way; if it was, toys like Lincoln Logs and Legos wouldn’t have been or continue to be so popular. Lincoln Logs were created in 1916 by John Lloyd Wright, son of famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright and a talented architect in his own right. Legos were brought to the United States in 1961 and quickly became an American childhood favorite. Both toys are in the Toy Hall of Fame (yes, this exists!). Both are symbolic of child’s creative nature. Aside from the themed Lego kits, which have a predetermined structure, these toys give kids hundreds, even thousands of pieces with which they are able to give their imaginations three reality-based dimensions.

With Legos and Lincoln Logs, I built bridges and forts and houses and buildings. I often took my toys outside to satisfy my notion of versatile landscapes. Cities grew tall on sidewalks and Lego farms sprawled through backyard grass. I had a vision for the way I thought things should be and I made it happen.

The city of Baltimore has been around for a bit longer than Lincoln Logs, Legos, and myself. Founded in 1729, Baltimore has been growing and defining itself for nearly three centuries. Despite its age and experience, Baltimore still exudes a youthful demeanor. Other cities around the country of similar age have grown old and reflect their age. Through their process of maturation, many other cities have achieved a certain level of esteem and with that, a cultural sclerosis. The ethos of these cities is well defined and it is hampering creativity and innovation.

As Baltimore has gotten older, the city has remained open and malleable. Though Baltimore is rough around the edges and knows what it’s like to struggle, the city remains dynamic and rife with opportunity. Those who have a vision for a better Baltimore are surrounded by a multitude that also want to make Baltimore better. The conversation is happening. Just like a child playing with Legos and Lincoln Logs, Baltimore residents have the opportunity to make their visions a reality.  Groups like the Citizens Planning and Housing Association facilitate community action, inform residents, and support political reform. The citywide Vacants to Value program creatively addresses neighborhood blight and offers individuals the opportunity to transform their communities. The conversation is happening. Don’t be afraid to share your dreams for Baltimore. Together, we can build a better city. Tell us what you envision for a better Baltimore; if you can see your dreams already becoming reality, send us a picture. We’d love to know about your new ideas and what it is that you treasure.

The Brookings Institution Does Baltimore

The Brookings Institution, a DC-based nonprofit focused on conducting topnotch independent research and providing innovative, research-based recommendations, released several articles last week that referenced Baltimore’s economic stability, stratification, and prospects for the future.

In an article that was originally run in the Baltimore Sun, Brookings Fellow Jennifer Vey wrote that metro Baltimore’s economy is “doing better than fine”. For the last decade, (2000-2010) incomes in Baltimore were (slowly- yet consistently) climbing. While incomes grew in Baltimore, the national average shrank by more than 7%. Employment grew here, whereas the rest of the nation experienced a steady decline. Baltimore experienced lower unemployment rates than comparable cities across the country.

This is great news!

However, for those who live or work in the region, there are ostensible challenges that face the city and many of its residents. Nearly 25% of Baltimore residents are low income, and 10% are considered poor.  In addition to high levels of low-income residents, it is noteworthy that 40% of Marylanders who live below the poverty line live in Baltimore. So, while Baltimore has enjoyed relative strength and stability in a time that has been turbulent for most Americans, “the regional economy hums along, baring the somewhat disquieting truth that a good economy can be had even while many aren’t reaping the benefits,” says Vey.

What’s going on here? There is a disconnect between the opportunities that have kept the Baltimore economy strong and the existence of educational and preparatory experiences that are available to the future workforce. Many simply don’t have access to reliable and quality employment opportunities. Additionally, troubled times have led to neighborhood instability and communities in transition. To address the ailments, several workforce development programs have evolved and are facilitating employment opportunities and providing training and experience to residents citywide. St. Ambrose works to address this issue by providing support to current and potential homeowners as well as providing assistance and education to those who may be facing foreclosure. The agency provides service-enriched rentals that include case managers who work with residents to submit online applications for employment, a major technological barrier for even the most tech savvy amongst us.

We know what’s ahead of us, Baltimore, and we are facing both good and bad. It’s always nice to hear about our strengths as a city and I look forward to being around (and hopefully being a part of) an ambitious and economically empowering future!

Character Is Key

In the depths of the recession, many people found strength and security within their immediate communities. People sought solace and discovered it in one another, in their neighbors. And not just the families next door, but neighbors like St. Ambrose, which is able to provide professional foreclosure support and offer education and resources to beleaguered homeowners during a crisis and in their own times of need, providing stability to neighborhoods in turbulent times.

Now that the country is moving towards financial stability, “cities are seeking the recipe for economic success in a rapidly changing global marketplace,” according to urban planner Edward McMahon. In his article, entitled “Character Is Key to an Economically Vibrant City,” McMahon cites one particularly surprising necessity for economic success- “community distinctiveness”. Referencing the Soul of the Community Survey put forth by the Knight Foundation and Gallup pollsters, McMahon talks about community appeal and its relationship to economic strength. Turns out, the stronger the bonds are between a community and its residents, the stronger the economy is. It appears a community’s uniqueness adds another dimension to its economic and social value.

Each of the neighborhoods that St. Ambrose works in has its unique flavor and identity.  Often shaped by the housing stock, Belair-Edison enjoys the distinctive style of the Baltimore Rowhome, the Waverlies are more diverse and Victorian, Lauraville and Hamilton have Mission type bungalows and each has a strong community presence through activism and engagement.

For many of the same reasons that I’ve decided to call Baltimore my home, this city reflects McMahon’s notion of community distinctiveness and character- and I believe that it works to Baltimore’s advantage. The strong sense of identity that defines each of Baltimore’s unique neighborhoods brings residents together and reinforces ties to the city. Indeed it seems that Baltimore’s charm is the key to the future.

The article mentioned above was recently published in the Atlantic Cities, an online magazine and division of the Atlantic. Atlantic Cities explores issues faced by cities worldwide and presents news, analysis, data, and trends, and innovative ideas for community improvement and revitalization.

Here’s a product of the Soul of the Community Survey that talks about community attachment: 

 

Why are you attached to Baltimore?

Calling Baltimore My Home

I was so pleasantly surprised to come across an article by travel writer George Horbica in the Huffington Post proclaiming Baltimore a travel-worthy destination and highlighting several reasons to visit.

I haven’t seen many travel articles that revel in Baltimore’s charms. Ok, I haven’t seen any.  And Horbica has found nine reasons to get excited about Baltimore- and he talks about them in a widely read online publication! I was very excited. I am not a Baltimore native, but I have chosen to live here, and I’ve been enjoying city life for five years. (Nine if you count my college years that were primarily spent in the suburb of Towson, with occasional trips to various events around the city). And since I’ve lived here, I’ve felt that I have to continually justify my choice to family and friends that remain sprinkled across New England.

Yes, Baltimore.

Yes, I like it. I am loving it.

Yes, The Wire was filmed here but….

But there’s more. There’s something special happening. It was happening before I got here, is happening now, and will continue for a long time to come. Baltimore is undergoing a renaissance. Where crime used to dominate Baltimore’s reputation, the arts, the creative community, and organizations serving the public interest have begun to assume distinction. There is also an online magazine dedicated to talking about just this!

Baltimore has been very welcoming to me. More people nod, smile, make eye contact, and say hello to me when passing on the streets here than ever would in Boston (an exception to this rule is the average Hopkins student). Baltimore, being a city of neighborhoods, offers numerous unique opportunities within city limits. The city provides diversity (of the racial, economic, sexual preference, educational varieties), and distinctive social outlets. In addition to being a great deal friendlier than my hometown, I can see art, art, and more art. And lots and lots of local music. The city is a haven for creative types, with a self-aware populace that identifies problems facing city residents and works to come up innovative solutions. There are museums, restaurants, and neighborhoods that are all deserving of time and attention from tourists as well as residents. Real estate is affordable and the tech community is thriving. And we’re right on the water!

There is an uncommon integration of cultural organizations, educational institutions, non-profits, artists, community members, and community leaders coming together to support their community and enhance the quality of life for all residents. These organizations are not only successfully integrating themselves into community life, but also becoming accepted, integral parts of their communities.  These groups are forming coalitions to implement some of the nation’s leading revitalization efforts.

The union between these groups facilitates a feeling of inclusion and veritable movement towards bettering the quality of life across the Baltimore City landscape. Stakeholders are identified and encouraged to voice their concerns and desires. Thoughtful individuals and groups come together on a grassroots level and are making strides towards increased neighborhood safety, better schools, and greater cultural and economic development.

Upon reading the travel article written by George Horbica, I was excited because I felt that people outside Baltimore were starting to see what I see. Baltimore is community oriented, creative, fun, and full of potential.

I was therefore deeply disappointed to see the news this week, when a story was picked up nationally about a tourist being beaten in Baltimore. The authorities are still parsing out the details of the event that took place on St. Patrick’s Day. Not only is this event horrible in and of itself, it feels like a defeat for those who are working so hard to make the city a safe place, an interesting place, a city that people are excited to visit and where they can feel proud about living. The details of the case are still incomplete, preventing prosecutorial action for the moment and it seems unclear what will become of this case.

For me however, it is clear. Though disheartened that this may continue to be people’s perception of Baltimore, I can continue exploring and pursuing the good I see in the city. And the more I know, the more I’ll continue to share. Because all in all, I am still excited and proud to call Baltimore my home.

Happy Birthday, New Communities

Chicago’s New Communities Program (NCP) is turning 10 this year. The initiative has been pioneering comprehensive community development for the past decade, so I suppose that now is as good a time as any to become familiar with their innovative and highly successful approach to community investment and revitalization.

Overview:

The New Communities program is a 10-year endeavor undertaken by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation/Chicago (LISC) to work with 16 Chicago communities challenged by loss of ground, loss of diversity, and attempts at gentrification.  NCP neighborhood efforts are led by a coalition of a neighborhood-based local agency appointed to take the lead on addressing issues and other local organizations and citywide groups that take on a supportive role. Partnerships between these groups and other nonprofits, businesses, government entities, and residents are highly encouraged. These coalitions also have the support of:
• Two full-time staff positions: an NCP director and an organizer.

• A pool of loan and grant funds to mount short- and long-term initiatives. The funds, distributed by LISC on a competitive basis, serve as seed money to leverage other public and private resources.

• Technical support and peer-learning opportunities, including planning expertise, trainings, access to subject-area experts and meetings with peers in other NCP agencies.

NCP’s 10-year anniversary was celebrated at the “Getting It Done II” conference put on by LISC and the Institute for Comprehensive Community Development. The Institute was formed in 2010 to share the successes and lessons learned from NCP and LISC’s Sustainable Communities approach to community development and urban revitalization. The NCP model has since been used in 20 additional cities around the country.

The NCP model has achieved great success over the last decade. The initiative has resulted in the addition of over 1000 housing units, including 130 affordable green homes, the resurgence of use of public spaces once underutilized because of the fear of gang violence, as well as the development of extracurricular educational opportunities.

It is easy to see how St. Ambrose reflects the values and successes of the NCP; providing housing programs and support to over 3,000 families each year, collaborating with local residents, community organizations, religious groups, businesses, government entities and financial institutions, and finding innovative solutions to Baltimore’s housing issues. Since its inception, St. Ambrose has been committed to strengthening Baltimore’s neighborhoods, and it continues to be a leader in neighborhood development.

Love Where You Live

This past weekend, Greater Homewood Community Corporation (GHCC) held its fifth annual Neighborhood Institute, a full day of workshops led by community leaders for interested and active community members and aspiring activists.  After the workshops (listed below), Baltimore City Housing Commissioner, Paul T. Graziano; Executive Assistant of the City Schools Office of Engagement, Courtney Conner Bettle; and Director of the Baltimore Museum of Art, Doreen Bolger discussed community growth and vibrance in Baltimore.

Workshops available included:

 

I attended Energy Efficiency, Advocating for Your Neighborhood, Community Greening, and Creating Community Art.

In the Energy Efficiency workshop, a Ben Jakubowski of the Neighborhood Design Center told us about the cost-reducing services available to city residents through BGE Smart Energy Savers Program, Neighborhood Design Center, and Retrofit Baltimore, a Civic Works project on energy efficiency. In addition to saving money as individual homeowners, Jakubowski advocated having events that would bring neighbors together with the dual benefit of making their homes more energy efficient as well as uniting the community.

Charles Village resident Sharon Guida, an attorney, led the next workshop I attended.  In Advocating for Your Neighborhood, Guida walked us through the process of keeping up to date with the most current zoning issues and how to respond to them if there is an issue (very useful information for individuals and community associations). Additionally, Guida provided some useful tips for navigating the (fairly confusing) city government website and gave us contact information for pertinent officials.

Community Greening was led by Miriam Avins of Baltimore Green Space and Master Gardener Jenny Kaurinki. Both discussed their successful endeavors in establishing community gardens, as well as methods for those interested in starting their own.

Ben Stone of Station North Arts & Entertainment, Inc. and Julie Lin from MICA talked about community art in Baltimore. Lin, who works for the Office of Community Engagement, talked about MICA’s history of working with community partners to strengthen neighborhoods and enhance educational opportunities. MICA currently works with Guilford Elementary School to provide after school arts education to students. Stone talked about the Station North neighborhood and let us know that it was the first area in Baltimore to receive the state designation as an arts and entertainment district. He talked enthusiastically about Station North’s most recent project, Open Walls Baltimore, an exciting and innovative street art project that brings renowned local, national, and international artists to Baltimore. And don’t forget- Station North is hosting the first ever National Symposium on Arts/Entertainment/Cultural Districts April 4-5.

All in all, it was a great way to spend a day learning about opportunities and resources available in Baltimore.

Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity

The Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity is an interdisciplinary initiative launched in 2007 that brings together diverse perspectives to explore and address economic challenges faced by Americans nationwide. The project was introduced in collaboration with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s How Housing Matters Initiative, and is intended to inform the policy debate surrounding poverty reduction and the proliferation of opportunity. Spotlight hopes to become the “one-stop shop website for the latest news, research, data, and commentary about poverty and opportunity”.

Spotlight ran a series of commentaries responding to topics that were raised at the How Housing Matters  conference that was held on November 2, 2011 in Washington, DC. The conference was a collaborative endeavor undertaken by the National Building Museum, the Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the Office of Policy Development and Research of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The event was just one product of the ongoing five-year How Housing Matters research program that explores affordable housing as a fundamental feature in achieving positive outcomes in education, employment, and physical and mental health. The How Housing Matters Research Network, which primarily focuses on the affects of housing on families and children, is made up of developmental psychologists, sociologists, epidemiologists, and economists.

The topics addressed in the commentary series include: the role of neighborhoods in health, why housing matters to young children, the section 8 voucher program, moving to opportunity, housing and health, and rental assistance.

In addition to examining housing issues, Spotlight examines the economic recovery through the lens of unemployment, healthcare, and education, as well as policies related to poverty. There is a state-by-state breakdown of poverty indicators together with state policies, research, and the most up-to-date media coverage. Information about Maryland can be found here.

Gerard Joab’s First 100 Days at St. Ambrose

Gerard Joab, who became St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center’s Executive Director in December, 2011 after founder Vincent Quayle’s departure, has been on the job for a little over three months. I had the opportunity to meet with him last Thursday to see how it was going.

Though his last job was in New Jersey, Joab’s beginnings were in Baltimore, so there’s a sense that he is coming home. In New Jersey, Joab was the Executive Director of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) of Greater Newark and Jersey City. LISC provides funding and technical assistance for community development corporations. As director at LISC, Joab facilitated funding and support to organizations like St. Ambrose. Thus, he has an intricate understanding of the funding processes these organizations undergo as well as the obstacles they may face, and ultimately the elements necessary for success.

Joab has been taking the first few months as Executive Director to “learn, learn, learn”. While reacquainting himself with Baltimore, Joab is also getting familiar with the programs available at St. Ambrose and is continuously impressed by the depth and breadth of services available. “It is important to hold on to and affirm the history of St. Ambrose,” says Joab, indicating that there are no plans to make programmatic changes. He wants to reassure the community that St. Ambrose will continue to be a strong presence in the Baltimore community and a wealth of resources for all. Joab is eager to share the good news of the strength and diversity of St. Ambrose’s services, and offers a warm welcome to all those interested in participating and partnering.

As Joab explores the program offerings, he has seen how and why specific programs are utilized. He explains how the foreclosure prevention program has become one of St. Ambrose’s premier programs in recent times. “Because of the economic environment, foreclosure has been front and center”. In addition to foreclosure prevention, St. Ambrose excels in managing 300 rental sites across the city and in Baltimore County with the belief that quality rental opportunities lead to neighborhood stabilization. Another neighborhood stabilization program that stands out at St. Ambrose is Homesharing, which provides a unique and innovative approach to community building and strengthening neighborhoods. Homesharing, which helps homeowners stay in their homes, can stave off foreclosure and make houses more affordable.

The commitment to housing is palpable, but to everyone at St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, a home is more than a house. It’s a house in a stable, strong, and supportive community where people can live, learn, work, and grow, where dreams can be had and goals can be achieved, where children are safe and have access to more opportunities than their parents.

After 100 days as the new Executive Director of St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, Gerard Joab is full of energy, enthusiasm, and experience. “Everything that I’ve done has prepared me for today and what I do today will prepare me for tomorrow,” he says.

The Baltimore Homeownership Preservation Coalition

The Baltimore Homeownership Preservation Coalition (BHPC) and the Public Justice Center have teamed up to launch a citywide renters’ rights campaign called “Landlord Foreclosed? Renters Have Rights”.  The campaign illustrates how homeowners are not alone in their struggles against foreclosure; renters too are confronting a similar plight.  According to the BHPC, approximately 40% of all started foreclosures are for investor-owned residential properties.

The campaign provides tips for renters whose landlords are facing foreclosure, as well as how to avoid loan scams and how to report mortgage and foreclosure fraud. Please see their recommendations below and visit their website for further information regarding the Renters’ Rights Campaign.

If you are a renter whose landlord is facing foreclosure:

•Open all mail addressed to “occupant” or “current resident”, especially if it comes from a court, law firm, bank or real estate agent.

•Pay your landlord rent until you receive notice from the new buyer after the foreclosure is complete.

•Seek legal advice before accepting a “cash for keys” deal (when the bank offers you a sum of money to vacate the property immediately).

•Contact the not-for-profit Public Justice Center for trustworthy and FREE legal advice at (410) 625-9409. (The link of BHPC’s website for the Public Justice Center doesn’t work, so use this one: http://www.publicjustice.org/our-work/tenant-advocacy)

To avoid loan scams, know the signs:

Do not trust anyone who:

•Guarantees to stop foreclosure.

•Instructs you not to contact lender, lawyer, housing or credit counselor.

•Collects fee before providing service.

•Accepts payment only by cashier’s check or wire transfer.

•Encourages leasing of home to “buy back over time”.

•Requires mortgage payments be made to them, rather than lender or servicer.

•Asks for deed or title to be transferred to them.

•Offers to buy house for cash at fixed price not set by market.

•Offers to fill out paperwork on your behalf.

•Pressures you to sign paperwork you haven’t thoroughly read or don’t understand.

BHPC recommends checking out Neighborworks America’s Loan Modification website that has more information about knowing the signs that you’re being scammed and how to protect yourself. Their site is: http://www.loanscamalert.org/

If you think you’ve been a victim of mortgage or foreclosure fraud, report it to the Maryland Office of the Commissioner of Financial Regulation by calling 1-888-784-0136. BHCP also has a page dedicated to avoiding foreclosure scams on their site.

The BHPC is a partnership in which nonprofit, governmental, and professional entities collaborate to prevent or lessen the effects of foreclosure on Baltimore families and neighborhoods. Membership is free for both organizations and individuals who are committed to preventing foreclosures and stabilizing neighborhoods that are dealing with significant changes caused by the current housing crisis.

St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center also provides a great deal of support to families in danger of losing their homes. The Foreclosure Prevention Division actively promotes continuing homeownership through education and reform. This group of counselors and attorneys identify predatory activities and unfair mortgages, and provide legal representation to clients who are victimized by fraudulent refinancing or home improvement scams in addition to helping those who encounter other home ownership issues. To receive free home ownership counseling, education, and other services at St. Ambrose, please call 410-366-8550. St. Ambrose also recommends the Consumer Tips for Avoiding Mortgage Modification Scams and Foreclosure Rescue Scams developed by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.