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

Thinking about adding somebody to your deed? Here are a few things to think about.

The St. Ambrose Legal Services Department often receives calls from Marylanders who have been advised to add a relative’s name to the deed for their house. It is a common misconception that this is the only way to ensure that a house passes to a family member after the owner’s death. In fact, there are several more ways to ensure that your loved ones receive your home after you pass away.

At St. Ambrose, we help clients prepare three different documents that help secure clients’ property for the next generation. Take a look below for an explanation of these documents and their benefits and risks.

1. Will

The simplest way to ensure that your house transfers to your family members after you die is to write a will. The will specifies who is to receive your home after you pass away – it can be one person or multiple people.

Benefits: Writing a will is a quick, easy way to make your estate plans legally binding. Will appointments at St. Ambrose are free and they typically take less than an hour. Wills also cover other property like your physical possessions (cars, clothing, jewelry, etc.) and money in your bank accounts.

Drawbacks: After you pass away, somebody will have to open an estate on your behalf. An estate is the legal entity that represents a person who has passed away. Your family members may have to pay money to open your estate after you pass away. Additionally, if you die owing debt (credit card debt, medical debt, etc.), those creditors may file a claim into your estate. All claimed debts that are allowed by the Orphans’ Court must be settled before any assets, like your house, can be given to the person or people that you designated to receive them in your will.

2. Joint Tenancy Deed

You can also have a deed prepared where you add one or more people as “joint tenants with the right of survivorship.” This means that once the deed is filed, you become a co-owner of the property along with whoever else you have added.

Benefits: This ensures that whoever you have added to the deed remains an owner of the property after you have passed away. There is no need for anybody to open an estate for your co-owners to retain ownership of the property. If you pass away owing any debts, your creditors will not be able to place a new lien on your property after you die.

Drawbacks: You lose a certain amount of control over your property by filing this kind of deed. If you want to sell the property and a co-owner does not agree, you will not be able to sell without filing a lawsuit. Also, if a co-owner gets sued and loses, a lien could be placed on your property and you could be forced to sell it even if you are alive and living in the property. You will also have to pay fees to your local jurisdiction to record a deed.

3. Life Estate Deed with Powers

This is a special kind of deed that allows you to keep your ownership of the property during your lifetime and specifies a person or people who automatically receive the property after you pass away – these people are called “remainders.”

Benefits: After filing a life estate deed with powers, you keep full ownership of your property during your lifetime. This means that you can sell it, take out a loan on it, refinance a loan on it, or anything else that you were already able to do with the property. If you still own the property at the time you pass away, your remainder(s) automatically take title to the property after you die. There is no need to open an estate for the property to transfer ownership. If you pass away owing any debts, your creditors will not be able to place a new lien on your property after you die.

Drawbacks: You will have to pay fees to your local jurisdiction to record a life estate deed. Also, if you want to change who is the remainder on the deed, you will have to have a new deed prepared and recorded. If your remainder dies before you do and you do not change the life estate deed before you die, then your property will go to your remainder’s legal heirs.

If you would like any of these documents prepared for you or have any other estate planning questions, please call the Legal Services Department at St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center at 410-366-8500 extension 209.

What happens when you can’t pay the mortgage? A forbearance explainer

During the current public health emergency, many homeowners are facing difficulties making their regular mortgage payments on time. Here are some things to consider when it comes to forbearance agreements and managing your mortgage in general:

If you can afford it, try to continue making your mortgage payments.

There are a lot of mixed messages being shared about whether or not you should continue making housing payments. The truth is, the best thing for your financial future is to continue to pay your obligations if you have the means to do so. While it is true that some protections are in place for consumers during the pandemic, it is safer (and easier) to continue meeting your obligations until circumstances change. If you have to make tough choices, remember to take care of urgent needs (food, medicine, shelter) first whenever possible.

If you cannot afford to make your payment, contact your mortgage company ASAP.

Public assistance programs in the United States almost always require the recipient to request them. Assistance from your mortgage company is no different. The sooner you contact the mortgage company, the sooner you will be able to begin the process of applying for help. Some servicers are currently only requiring a few button presses to be entered into temporary assistance programs. Even then, make sure you keep a record of what day and time you applied. Also keep track of any information you may have provided to your mortgage company, in case questions arise at a later date.

What is a Forbearance Agreement?

With a forbearance, you and your mortgage company agree to temporarily suspend or reduce your monthly mortgage payments for a specific period of time. This option lets you deal with your short-term financial problems by giving you time to get back on your feet and bring your mortgage current.

If your mortgage company indicates that you are approved for a Forbearance Agreement, try getting it in writing.

When you are approved for a forbearance, try to get a in writing (or via email), if possible. If getting it in writing isn’t possible, record the time and date of the approval, as well as the name of the person you spoke with (if available). A Forbearance Agreement is NOT necessarily the mortgage company allowing you to “skip” payments, it is an agreement to allow you to make those payments at a later date in some form or fashion.

After the Forbearance Agreement ends, you may need to submit more information.

Some mortgages will allow the missed payments to simply be added to the end of the loan. Others may require you to apply for a loan modification once the forbearance period is over. Even if you “heard” from someone (including a mortgage company employee) that the missed payments will be automatically added on to your loan, it is best to be prepared in case you need to provide more information in the future. During your forbearance, keep detailed records of your finances (bank statements, tax returns, and paystubs- if you are still being paid) and be sure to open any mail you receive, especially from your mortgage servicer.

If you require assistance with any stage of this process, Housing Counseling Help is available. 

St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center remains open and available to counsel individuals having difficulty paying their mortgage through our Foreclosure Intervention Counseling Program. Our counseling services are free of charge and available to all residents of the state of Maryland who need our assistance. Email us at intake@stambros.org or call us at 410-366-8550 ext. 249.

Foreclosure fears? Ten tips from Staff Attorney Tim Darby, Esq.

Many Marylanders are facing the threat of foreclosure due to loss of income because of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic. The St. Ambrose Legal Services Department has compiled the following tips for what to do if you having trouble making mortgage payments:

  1. Ask for help from a housing counselor or pro bono attorney as soon as you realize you are in financial trouble. The sooner you ask, the more likely you are to get the necessary support to resolve the problem.
  2. Stay in contact with your mortgage servicer so that they are aware of your situation. Your servicer may offer you a forbearance, meaning that they will suspend your obligation to make monthly payments for a certain period of time. Once that period of time ends, you will resume making your normal monthly payments. If you are upfront and transparent about your financial situation, your bank will better understand your needs and interests.
  3. Open all of your mail, promptly. Don’t assume you already know what’s inside.
  4. Know that the foreclosure process in Maryland takes many months from beginning to end. Many people are frightened when they start receiving mail about a foreclosure action. Take this seriously but know that your lender has to take several steps through the court process before you are legally obligated to leave your home.
  5. Know that because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the court system is not processing any foreclosure cases and the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals of Maryland, our state supreme court, has suspended all evictions.No evictions may legally take place at this time. Once the court system opens back up foreclosure proceedings will resume as normal. You still have an obligation to make mortgage payments unless your servicer tells you otherwise in writing.
  6. Do not pay fees for services to assist you with your financial situation when the service is available for free. Thoroughly investigate anyone who is charging you for financial services and what they are doing for the fees.
  7. Do not take advice from friends, neighbors, or family unless they are trained in financing.
  8. Understand your responsibilities under the debt obligation. A deed of trust is part of a mortgage agreement. A deed is the document that signifies ownership of a piece of real estate.
  9. Know your rights and don’t sign any contracts unless you fully understand the document. You may be offered a forbearance or deferment during this time, but make sure you understand the full implications of this sort of arrangement before agreeing to it.  
  10. Do not think the problem will just go away. If you cannot afford your house, start considering what next steps you will take in order to find a new living space.

The threat of foreclosure can be intimidating, especially in light of the COVID-19 Coronavirus outbreak. However, being informed of your rights and responsibilities can make the process easier. Going through a foreclosure doesn’t mean losing everything. If you remain informed and proactive throughout the process you’ll be able to salvage the maximum amount of your investment. Find help, resolve the problem, and look ahead to life beyond foreclosure.

Call St. Ambrose for free legal advice and foreclosure counseling: 410-366-8550 extension 209.

Wells Fargo supports rental housing in communities of opportunity

 

Through their Priority Markets Program, the Wells Fargo Foundation has awarded $80,000 to St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center for the preservation of affordable rental apartments in the Hampden community. The award provides the final funding needed for St. Ambrose to begin a comprehensive renovation on their Union Avenue Apartments.  This garden style apartment complex is home to 54 families.

buena-vista-apartments-baltimore-md-primary-photo

Since the initial renovation in 1996, normal maintenance has occurred as residents moved out.  Heating and hot water systems were replaced complex wide within the last 5 years.  However, the turnover rate has been historically very low and the property needs a substantial renovation to the interior and exterior to assure that it meets the competitive standards of today’s market and the neighborhood. The planned renovation will upgrade the property to include central air conditioning, enhancing the exterior of the property by removing unsightly window units and replacing windows.  The agency is holding units vacant to enable an in-place rehab.  Residents from an entire building will relocate to renovated vacant units allowing for the total renovation of one building at a time.

With a severe deficit in the number of affordable rentals in the City, this funding from Wells Fargo represents a significant investment in the community and assures an improved quality of life for the residents. Union Avenue apartments provide an affordable home for families in a neighborhood that is bustling with newer developments and is close to public transportation and schools.  The anticipated start date for the renovation is the summer of 2018 and St. Ambrose is committed to creating a property that demonstrates that affordable rental can blend into the urban aesthetic and be viewed as an asset within the community.

Thank you to Wells Fargo for their support in creating better housing opportunities in Baltimore.

ShelterForce: 2nd in Series of 50 Years of the War on Poverty

There is No “Culture of Poverty”

Posted by Josh Ishimatsu on February 5, 2014

“At the heart of the deterioration of the fabric of Negro society is the deterioration of the Negro family.”

– The 1965 U.S. Department of Labor Report “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action

This is the second in a series of posts that I’m working on to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the War on Poverty.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan, one of the architects of the War on Poverty and assistant secretary of labor under President Johnson, is popularly identified with the concept of “the culture of poverty.” While he did not coin the term, Moynihan certainly did more than most to put the idea into national consciousness, particularly in the direct association between the culture of poverty and black urban life.

But this post is not about him. It’s about how the concept of the “culture of poverty” and how Moynihan’s vision of it shapes many of our deeply held, unstated perceptions/assumptions about poverty.

And about how many of these assumptions are wrong.

The Culture of Poverty
In 1962, in his influential book about poverty (said to have inspired Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and named one of Time magazine’s top 10 works of 20th century non-fiction), The Other America, Michael Harrington introduced mainstream America to the concept of “the culture of poverty.” In 1965, then U.S. Department of Labor Assistant Secretary and former Harrington drinking buddy, Moynihan modified/expanded upon Harrington’s version of culture of poverty concepts and applied them more explicitly and specifically to African Americans in a report entitled “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.”

Moynihan argued that “three centuries of mistreatment” had led to a “tangle of pathology”—crime, promiscuity, lack of education—that created a near inescapable cycle of poverty and disadvantage. At the heart of this tangle—the fundamental cause of it all—was the “deterioration of the Negro family.”

Moynihan wrote: “In essence, the Negro community has been forced into a matriarchal structure which, because it is to [sic] out of line with the rest of American society, seriously retards the progress of the group as a whole…”

Moynihan intended that his report would be a call to action for the nation to do more about addressing what he saw as the root causes of poverty.

The title of the report, after all, includes the words “The Case for National Action.” And Moynihan wrote that it was the responsibility of the federal government and its citizens to do more to eliminate poverty, “strengthen the Negro family” and set right “three centuries of injustice.”

However, from when the internal report leaked to the public, Moynihan immediately was the subject of intense criticism from his left flank—from civil rights advocates, feminists and anti-poverty activists who accused him of racism, sexism, victim blaming, etc. In the years following, as conservatives appropriated the report’s broken family/tangle of pathology vocabulary (while ignoring its national call to action), the term “culture of poverty” came to stand more and more for the idea that poor family values and government dependency had created poverty and that a return to “traditional family values” was what was needed to eliminate poverty, not more government programs.

Poverty Is About Jobs, Not Culture
The intersection of work, family and the economy has changed drastically in the past 50 years. More women work. Divorce and children born outside of marriage are far more common. Non-Hispanic white families of today have rates of single-female headed households and of children in unmarried households, etc. that are comparable to the rates of African Americans during the 1960s. But non-Hispanic whites still have the lowest poverty rates of any major racial/ethnic group.

White society and economic conditions did not collapse because of increased matriarchy. Of poverty populations, both Hispanics and Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) have higher rates of married family households than non-Hispanic whites but both populations have higher poverty rates than non-Hispanic whites. For families in poverty, roughly 60 percent of AAPI families are households headed by married couples. For the general poverty population, roughly 30 percent of families are headed by married couples. And despite this, since the recession, AAPIs have been the fastest growing racial/ethnic group in poverty. Marriage, “intact families,” or a hypothetical cultural value placed on marriage and family structure are no silver bullet against poverty. As we have a better understanding of the many forms that families can take and as the poverty population becomes more multicultural, the causal link (at a moral/cultural level, at least) between marriage/family structure and economic outcomes seems weaker and weaker.

If there is any correlation between marriage and poverty, it is about jobs. Families with two or more wage earners (who do not have to be married and do not have to be different genders) are more likely to be able to move out of poverty than a family with only one wage earner. This makes sense in that poverty as a cold, hard statistic is primarily measure of income. Two incomes means the likelihood of more money. Two potential wage-earners means a level of insurance/ability to weather hard times if one job is lost. But this is not something that is necessarily about marriage or is something inherently about “a culture of poverty.”

There are plenty of poor people with good values and who work hard who have been and will be poor their entire lives. There are plenty of people who have had crappy home lives and whose lives are desperate tangles of pathologies but who have been and will be rich all their lives. Poverty is about income. Poverty is about jobs and job quality. Take my personal story as an example. I was raised by a single mother. My mother and father were never married, I never knew my father and my family never knew any support from him. But we were never poor. This is because my mother had a union job as a nurse at a public hospital. Not to take anything away from my mother’s personal strength or the strength of her values or of the values that she instilled in me, but poverty is about jobs and who happens to be lucky enough to have a good one (or about who is lucky enough to be born with rich parents, but that’s another story). Poverty is about scarcity, not about marital status. And because there will never be enough good jobs for everybody to have one, we know that there will always be poor people. Ascribing after-the-fact cultural causes to this inevitability obscures the real issues.

Moving Forward
The War on Poverty was initiated during heady times—urban unrest, the civil rights movement, the war in Vietnam, etc. The time period was also saw the birth of poverty as an official government unit of measurement and the concept of poverty entering more widely into mainstream parlance. Our deeply held, mostly unstated, beliefs about poverty (and especially about poverty and race) stem from this time period, from this crucible, whether we were alive then or not. Most of us, I would wager, still think of American poverty as largely urban (more specifically, urban Northeast and rustbelt Midwest) and black. But the demographics of poverty have changed and the geography of poverty is also changing.

But regardless of the changing composition and distribution of the poverty population, much of the current debate about the legacy of the War on Poverty is rehashing old conflicts about race, about the role of government, about culture and values—a big clash of visions and mythologies that was never fully resolved in the 1960s. In this context, Rand Paul can use the bankruptcy of the City of Detroit as a backdrop to comment upon the failure of “big government” to address poverty—to sound the dog whistle of race and the supposed intractability of the culture of poverty—all the while putting out a kinder, gentler GOP rhetoric around race, poverty and tax cuts.

In the mainstream, slightly-left-of-center-world of policy wonks, whether we fully acknowledge this to ourselves or not, also continue to work from outdated and racist paradigms of race and poverty, tending to think of poverty in terms of cultural deficits while making policy prescriptions for parenting classes, school accountability, financial education, etc. Not that these are bad programs, per se. Many of these programs are worthy and are worth the investments we make in them. But we shouldn’t be putting the burden of “solving” poverty on such programs nor should we be transmitting the message to people that there is something inherently wrong with them (or their culture) for happening to be poor.

Moving forward, I believe we need a deeper, more nuanced national conversation about race and poverty. I also believe we need a broader, large-scale recommitment to economic equity and economic justice. To do both of these well, we need to revisit and re-examine all of our unstated, unconscious (racialized) beliefs about poverty and culture.

(Photo from the National Institute’s of Health Library CC BY-NC-SA)

About the author more »

Josh Ishimatsu is Director of Capacity Building and Research for National CAPACD.