Coming together to support and invest in legacy and older homeowners.

Ms. A heard about Housing Upgrades to Benefit Seniors (HUBS) through her church, and she decided it was time to reach out. 

 “My roof was leaking. There were two sun lights that were also damaged on the roof. I had to put pots and buckets out to catch the rain…And there was no way I could afford to get it fixed.”

According to the National Aging in Place Council, over 90% of seniors say that they would prefer to age in place instead of moving into senior housing, but because older adults are more likely to live on a fixed income and experience limited mobility, they often have substantial housing repair and social support needs.

In Maryland, one in four households with residents 85 years or older and one in five households with residents aged 65-74 pay at least half of their fixed income on housing. In Baltimore City, 17% of all older adults over the age of 65 live below the poverty level. 

Concerned for the wellbeing of older Baltimoreans, a coalition of service providers and funders came together to create the Housing Upgrades to Benefit Seniors (HUBS) initiative – a network of organizations with a shared mission of helping older homeowners in Baltimore age in place.

Another partnership, Safe & Healthy Homes, founded in 2021, serves legacy homeowners who have been in their home for ten years or more, as well as homeowners over 65 in Central Baltimore.

Reducing the displacement of both older and legacy homeowners is foundational to strong, healthy, and stable neighborhoods.

Hundreds of older Baltimore neighbors like Ms. A are receiving home repairs and holistic support through service providers including St. Ambrose.

“When you get to a certain age these situations really wear on you. I have peace of mind now, and I didn’t have any peace when my roof was leaking. There has been so much rain lately. I thank God for my new roof.”

St. Ambrose provides not only home repairs, but also will preparation services (to ensure the homes safe passage to heirs) and case management to support older homeowners and legacy homeowners so they can obtain resources like energy assistance and assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Comprehensive, holistic services enable homeowners to resolve a variety of issues, including legal issues threatening their housing, issues affecting their ability to afford housing payments, and issues influencing safety and habitability.

These services include home modifications to facilitate safety and health (the installation of stair lifts, grab bars, railings, shower chairs, roof and furnace repair), and legal advice to avoid the threat of foreclosure or the threat of tax sale. They also ensure that the critical asset of the home can stay in the client’s family, helping to stabilize neighborhoods and build intergenerational wealth.

Our older and legacy neighbors do so much to strengthen our communities, and St. Ambrose is honored to be one of many Baltimore organizations coming together to support and invest in our neighbors and in the strength, stability and wellbeing of our communities.

A huge thanks to Ms. A for sharing her home repair experience with us and for Ms. W for sharing the stair lift photo.

Interested in Accessing these Services?

If you or someone you know is 65 or older click here to learn more about eligibility and next steps.

If you or someone you know is a legacy homeowner who has lived in their home for more than ten years or is 65 or older in Central Baltimore click here to learn more about eligibility and next steps.

We envision everyone in our community with a place they are proud to call home.

Over 480 community members call a St. Ambrose rental property home. One of those community members is Ms. M, who has been a St. Ambrose resident for more than 20 years.

“This morning I was standing on the porch, enjoying the view, and I thought about how it feels good to be living in in this neighborhood – knowing where it came from and now where it is. St. Ambrose has made it possible for families like me to be here,” said Ms. M.

Things have not always been this peaceful. Many years ago, Ms. M had to quickly leave her home with her three children to escape violence. When she was living in a shelter, she met one of St. Ambrose staff doing outreach. She took the opportunity to rent a home from St. Ambrose and has continued renting from us ever since.  

“St. Ambrose offers opportunities. St. Ambrose has been there for me. They work with you. Even with the pandemic – they were working hard to support families such as myself.  St. Ambrose helps; not just with housing, but with food, clothing, all kinds of stuff – I used St. Ambrose services to help with my resume when I was searching for work.”

Along with raising three children, Ms. M worked as a Headstart teacher and would also make time to support other domestic violence survivors. “I used to reserve a spot to talk to women in shelters. I would share my story and talk about how I was once where they are now. I always gave them a journal book with a pen, because that is what helped me. I tell them, ‘I want you to see yourself in the word success.’” 

“I raised three kids, my daughter became a soldier, she is a veteran, she fought in Afghanistan. My son is a nurse, and my youngest daughter is in the hospital, so I am raising her daughter. I’m not trying to own a home right now,” Ms. M states, and she let us know that renting is the best option for her right now.

“I’m caring for my granddaughter. This is a full-time job – being a stay at home grandma.”  

Ms. M says her St. Ambrose rental in the Winter’s Lane community is an ideal place to raise her granddaughter. She loves decorating her porch and gardening. And she enjoys seeing the community in action, whether it be seeing families come together at local sports fields or neighbors helping each other with yard work. “It really does take a village to raise a family,” she says.

We are inspired by everything Ms. M does for her family and community. And we are so grateful for the time she took to share her story with us. Thank you Ms. M!

Decoration’s in Ms. M’s yard.

A Legacy of Black Leadership, Community-Building and History in Winter’s Lane

In Catonsville, just two miles from the Baltimore City line, is a community called Winter’s Lane. Here churches, businesses, and historic homes stand witness to an important piece of Black history, and a legacy of Black leadership, community-building and resilience.

Because of the work of historian Louis S. Diggs, much of the history of the community is readily accessible to us. Through years of documentation and genealogical research, Diggs outlined the history of this community in his 1995 book, It all Started on Winters Lane.

The Winters Lane Historic District is the largest and most intact mid-19th century African American neighborhood in Baltimore County. The community was founded in 1867, just over a year after the end of the Civil War, and many of the original founders were formerly enslaved people.

Despite widespread violence, exploitation, and systemic racism, Black community members rallied together to build a thriving community. A school was created within a year of the community’s founding. Black businesses, such as a community grocery store, sprang up and flourished. 

The business community was bolstered by support from The Catonsville Cooperative Corporation, formed by Black Winter’s Lane residents in 1890. Cut off from access to intergenerational wealth because of slavery, the Co-op allowed community members to pool their resources to support new businesses in the community and to purchase homes.

Throughout the 20th century Winter’s Lane prospered, and was well known as a civically engaged community full of beautiful neighborhoods, sports, and social clubs. The Concerned Citizens of Catonsville, founded in 1980, continue to advocate for investment and preservation of the community and uphold the community’s strong legacy of leadership.

A photograph from the late 1980’s showing one of the homes before renovation.

In the late 1980s, a group of 15 homes in Winter’s Lane on Roberts and Shipley Avenues were rental properties in disrepair, with outdated features, like dangerous staircases and no central heating. The homes had been built in the early 1900’s and were in need of extensive rehabilitation. In a partnership with Baltimore County, St. Ambrose purchased the houses and renovated them with the goal of keeping as many original tenants in the homes as possible.

St. Ambrose brought the houses up to code and did substantial work to modernize the interiors. Great care was taken to maintain the original exterior appearance of the homes to preserve their historical legacy.  These homes are representative of the architecture of the time, and they are some of the few remaining examples of this type of structure in Winter’s Lane. 

In 2016, in partnership with Baltimore County and the State of Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, St. Ambrose began a second renovation of ten of the historic homes, essentially doubling the size of the homes and updating with more modern amenities.

 “When I look at those houses, I see the history there. It can take you back and you can imagine the people in the past, while also looking at the new generation moving forward” says Leah Mason-Grant, Lead Property Manager at St. Ambrose. 

One of the homes after the most recent renovation.

Today, the 15 homes stand as living pieces of history in our region. They also are beloved homes rented at affordable rates, with many housing families that have been in the community for generations. St. Ambrose is honored to offer safe, affordable housing in this community and to have been able to rehabilitate and preserve buildings as they originally looked. We encourage you to visit Winter’s Lane, look into the work of local historian Louis S. Diggs, and enjoy this song about the community by the R.J. Phillips Band. 

This article drew heavily from the work of many more comprehensive articles which are listed below.

It’s like a huge weight off my shoulders

Theresa had will preparation on her to-do list for a long time. An upcoming surgery made the task more urgent. So when we she heard that St. Ambrose Legal Services was coming to her senior apartment community, Essex Co-Op, for Wills Wednesday, she was thankful for the opportunity to cross it off her list.

This Wills Wednesday event was one of seven offered by St. Ambrose in the fall of 2021, serving 44 clients in total. Woodlawn Senior Center and St. Ambrose partnered to put on many of the Wills Wednesdays events.

Wills Wednesday events bring attorneys into the community to meet residents where they are and prepare critical documents like wills, advance directives, and power of attorneys at no cost. Many attorneys charge $500 – $3,000 to prepare a will, a figure that is prohibitive to many older people.

St. Ambrose attorney Jeffrey Hayes hands Theresa her newly created will.

“If someone has a home and passes away, for a lot of families – especially for those in Baltimore City and County – it is incredibly important to keep that home in the family to maintain home ownership.  This program helps people avoid the probate process. It makes the end of life process, which is hard and financially challenging already, a little easier for folks,” explains Katherine Donnelly, a St. Ambrose attorney.

In 2021, the St. Ambrose legal team helped community members prepare 121 wills. Legal services like these increase housing stability by supporting families to build and preserve assets and take greater control of their financial legacy.

As she took her newly created will in hand, Theresa stated, “It’s like a huge weight off my shoulders, it frees my mind from being worried and concerned…peace of mind is what it is.”

As always, if you are have any questions regarding estate planning, please call the Legal Services Department at St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center at 410-366-8550, ext. 209.

The Importance of Estate Planning

Frannie is a 92-year-old low income woman who lives alone. She was concerned about her heirs and how they would receive her assets after her passing. That’s when she reached out to St. Ambrose to have a will prepared.

She told her St. Ambrose attorney that her husband had died, after which she sold their marital home. In total, she had approximately $70,000 in liquid funds from the sale of the home. She had worked with her husband for decades to establish their equity and she wanted to ensure that the funds would go to her chosen heirs.

Medical issues left Frannie with limited mobility so an attorney visited her in her new rental apartment. The attorney provided advice and counseling about estate planning. He reviewed her asset and financial documentation and told Frannie what was already taken care of in her estate plan and what still needed to be done. To tie up all of the loose ends, the attorney prepared a will for Frannie in her own home during the visit.   

After this brief in-home meeting, Frannie had an ironclad estate plan. She now knows where all of her assets will go after she passes away. The attorney also enabled her to avoid the probate process for as many of her assets as possible, saving her heirs time, money, and the headache that many experience while dealing with probate assets.

As always, if you are have any questions regarding estate planning, please call the Legal Services Department at St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center at 410-366-8550, ext. 209.

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of St. Ambrose clients.

Why Advance Healthcare Directives are Vital for Older Adults

Gerald had an upcoming high-risk surgical procedure. The 71-year-old Baltimore native needed a legal document to guide his health care providers in the event that something went wrong during the surgery. Gerald went to the Baltimore City Register of Wills where he was referred to St. Ambrose.

A St. Ambrose attorney prepared an advance directive for Gerald free of charge. This advance directive ensured that if there were a complication during the surgery, one of Gerald’s loved ones had the authority to make healthcare decisions on his behalf. It also allowed Gerald to dictate what kind of medical treatment he would receive ahead of time if he were to suffer a major debilitation.

Gerald walked into St. Ambrose’s office two days before his procedure. With such an urgent need, he was unable to secure legal services from other nonprofits with longer intake periods. He could not hire a private attorney because he lived on under $1,000 per month. From start to finish, St. Ambrose addressed Gerald’s needs in less than one hour.

Thankfully, Gerald’s procedure was a success. The fact that he had an advance directive ahead of time gave Gerald one fewer thing to worry about and the peace of mind so that he could focus on his health and recovery.

As always, if you are have any questions regarding housing law, please call the Legal Services Department at St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center at 410-366-8550, extension 209.

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of St. Ambrose clients.

How this Advocate jumped in to help St. Ambrose and never looked back

“When I was a law student looking for a summer job that didn’t involve standing in a file room or making copies for 10 hours a day, I came across the opportunity to apply for a public interest grant and St. Ambrose was one of the eligible sponsors. Vinnie Quayle was the contact so I reached out and we met for a few hours in his office one spring afternoon sharing war stories. Prior to that encounter, I had never stopped to think about how much depends on safe, stable and affordable housing; from children’s performance in schools to job stability, mental and physical health, safety and future financial security. St. Ambrose had just filed a lawsuit against a predatory lender preying on vulnerable minority communities in Baltimore at the time of our meeting. The stories of abusive lending practices were heart wrenching and infuriating. They were short staffed and up against large law firms on the defense side so I jumped in to help and really never looked back.

During my tenure as a law student and then attorney at St. Ambrose, there was a guiding statement featured prominently in the halls and in many individual offices that read: The temple stands unfinished until all are housed in dignity. This statement is a personification of the work accomplished from the rowhouse on 25th street and forever etched in my own conscience. For this perspective and for the freedom I had to grow and become a better person and lawyer, I will always be grateful and supportive. The work that is done and the lives impacted by the Agency deserve far more support than my nominal monthly donation. Giving a voice to those who are without and ensuring that the most vulnerable are housed in dignity has never been needed more in my lifetime than it is today and I hope others will give as generously as they can in support of this critical mission.

Every day at St. Ambrose, we help our families make themselves at home in strong, stable communities where they can develop relationships with neighbors and create stable home environments where their children are able to live, learn, and grow.

When people turn to St. Ambrose, your generosity ensures that we’re able to provide for them.  Whether it’s preparing someone to buy their first home, making it possible for an aging homeowner to continue to live in the neighborhood they know and love, or helping one generation care for the next, your support can help us change lives.

Monthly giving to St. Ambrose ensures that individuals and families have a pathway to secure, stable housing, which is critical today and every day. You can make sure the families and individuals that come to St. Ambrose have what they need to survive and thrive by mailing a check or by donating online. To become a monthly donor at St. Ambrose, please visit www.stambros.org/donate and select “Monthly” under Recurring Payment options.

Your generosity makes it possible for us to consistently provide the highest quality services to those who turn to us in times of need in order to ensure a brighter, better future for all.

“St. Ambrose staff works tirelessly to ensure that all persons are treated with dignity and integrity. They make sure that our neighbors are given their basic human rights and Constitutional processes when one illness, one death, one divorce or one job loss brings them to the brink of homelessness. I am very fortunate to have learned these principles at the very start of my legal career. I had never purchased a house, read the fine print of a credit card disclosure or car loan application. With all of the wisdom and arrogance of a 2nd year law student, I walked into my first client meeting in the row-house turned office on 25th street, expecting to impart great wisdom on my first client. Instead, I was the one that very quickly realized I had much to learn. I was mentored and supported by my St. Ambrose colleagues and Board Members from that day forward as I stumbled through many more client meetings, hearings and legislative sessions. I quickly learned that during down economic times, the voice of the most vulnerable amongst us is often the one first ignored and too quickly vilified. And I learned that it is up to all of us to stand up for those marginalized and fight for equality. St. Ambrose has never backed away from fighting for what is right and just and I am so grateful to have started my career on the right side of our evolving history.” – Anne Balcer

About Anne

I was born and raised in Northeast Baltimore in Mayfield. I lived in other parts of Baltimore City and County except for when I was in Virginia for my undergraduate degree and then ended up in Montgomery County, Maryland in 2013. I currently live in Kensington. My parents were children of Polish immigrants that landed in the Canton/Fells Point area of Baltimore City. My Mom went to the convent and my Dad to the seminary and both graduated but never took their respective vows. They met a few years later in a chemistry class at the University of Maryland where my Mom was studying pharmacy and my Dad medicine. My Mom passed away when I was young so it was up to my Dad to raise 3 girls on his own. I’m the youngest and he instilled in us a relentless work ethic and insistence on doing what is right even if it’s not popular. He came from very little and worked at Bethlehem Steel during the summer and a car garage during the school year to put himself through medical school. He remarried another Baltimore native, years later, and I was lucky enough to become the youngest of 6 total children, 4 are still in the Baltimore area. In terms of my immediate family today, I’m married to an incredibly supportive husband, Matt, a New Jersey native, and have two girls. Melli just turned 11 and is kind, compassionate and already a staunch advocate for social justice. Lucy is almost 2 and strong-willed (maybe a bit stubborn) and determined just like her older sister.

I’ve been fortunate to have the time and opportunity to coach my daughter Melli’s lacrosse team. It has been one of the most enjoyable and rewarding experiences to watch young girls develop confidence and teamwork that I know will help them navigate the difficulties of being a female in today’s world as they grow older. I also volunteer with local and national political campaigns. Having the right leaders in office and ensuring that our collective voices are heard through voting and demonstration is so critical to our future and that of my girls. Otherwise, my career as General Counsel for Congressional Bank, a community bank headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, and my family keeps me pretty occupied but I do sneak in some yoga, running, gardening, reading and cooking when I have a few spare minutes.

Welcome New Legal Services Summer Intern!

We have a new addition to the St. Ambrose team! Please join us in welcoming Shereen Ibrahim as one of our new Legal Services Summer Interns.

“I am a student from the University of Baltimore School of Law. The legal fields I am interested in are environmental, constitutional and national security law.

I chose to clerk at St. Ambrose because I want to use my legal abilities to assist members of underserved communities navigate property decisions. As a law clerk, I will be assisting clients with their foreclosure process, review landlord and tenant issues, and prepare wills and deeds. Serving underprivileged communities is one of my ultimate goals as a attorney and being a law clerk at St. Ambrose is a great first step in my legal career.” -Shereen

Welcome to the team, Shereen!

A Message of Hope

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears. Thou who has brought us thus far on the way; Thou who has by thy might led us into the light keep us forever in the path, we pray.The Negro National Anthem

It was a tense time! We were in national crisis, and we didn’t know how we could ever move forward. A black man was dead, our inner-cities were in the midst of a housing and economic crisis, we were engulfed in a foreign war, and people young and old, took to the streets in protest. The year was 1968 and the murdered man was Dr. Martin Luther King, and many of us felt like we had lost all hope.

In the past weeks, our country and the world have been witnesses to the brutal murders of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, confounded by the killing of Breonna Taylor, and felt the shame and sting of the blatant, weaponized, racist attack on Christian Cooper. For many of us, the events of the last few weeks have made us feel like we have come full circle – our communities dissected, our families destroyed, and our people crying out for justice.

Just over fifty years ago, St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center was created with the Civil Rights Movement as its backdrop. Our mission is to create and maintain equal housing opportunities for low- and moderate-income people, primarily in Baltimore City, and to encourage and support strong and diverse neighborhoods. We believed then that treating all people with respect and dignity was our responsibility and their opportunity to move forward. We believed our engagement with our community could help eradicate the systemic racial injustice that plagued our country. These beliefs are as true today as they were in 1968, and though we have accomplished much over the past fifty years, this week we are reminded that there is more to work to be done.

As we consider the events of the past month and walk through the days and weeks ahead, let us support each other as family, then turn outward and help our community. Let us commit to ensuring that the values and work for which St. Ambrose was created continues. And together we will march on till victory is won.

Yours in solidarity,

Gerard Joab, Executive Director