Welcome Back, Grace!

Do you know Grace Parker?

Grace first came to St. Ambrose as an AmeriCorps Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA) from 2015- 2016. Grace returned to St. Ambrose as an Intake Coordinator and Housing Counselor from 2017-2018. Today, Grace rejoins the team as a Senior Housing Counselor!

“I am so happy to be back at St. Ambrose. I am proud to be a part of an organization that does such great work in Baltimore. As a Housing Counselor, I enjoy helping people buy their first home in Baltimore and experience Homeownership.”

St. Ambrose Staff Update

Many of you know already know Pam Petty because she has been with St. Ambrose for 23 years! Pam is the Interim Director of Housing Counseling at St. Ambrose so please join us in congratulating her.

“As a Housing Counselor, I have considered myself lucky to have a position with such an amazing organization that creates change and offers support to families in Baltimore. I’ve enjoyed my position as counselor and I love what I do. I have the opportunity to meet individuals from diverse backgrounds, many of whom become friends, resources and referrals.

As I move into my new position, I will continue to provide support to my department and focus on improving our services to families who look to us to improve their housing situation.”- Pam

Congratulations on your new role, Pam!

Are you a First-Time Homebuyer (FTB)? These Frequently Asked Questions are for you!

April is National Fair Housing Month!

As a HUD-certified Housing Counseling agency, St. Ambrose has the responsibility and privilege to Affirmatively Further Fair Housing. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 protects individuals from discrimination when they are renting or buying a home, getting a mortgage, seeking housing assistance, or engaging in other housing-related activities. “Housing, like food and water, is an essential basic need. Fair housing laws are in place to ensure everyone has equal opportunities to access appropriate affordable housing. This process in action doesn’t occur in a vacuum. For more than 50 years, St. Ambrose has assisted Baltimore and surrounding areas in making safe, affordable homes a reality for its residents,” said Erin Broussard, Deputy Director of St. Ambrose.

HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, Anna Maria Farias, addresses the recognition of Fair Housing Month amidst the current Coronavirus pandemic.“I invite all of you to join me in using the occasion of Fair Housing Month to renew our commitment to the principles of justice and equality, beginning with our response to discriminatory policies and practices associated with Covid-19.”

FAQ’s

Are there incentives for FTB?

Yes. Many incentives are provided by local and state housing agencies. We can help you navigate the details and requirements to obtain many of the FTB incentives. Click here to visit the Maryland Mortgage Program: www.mmp.maryland.gov, which provides information on home loans, financial incentives and other assistance options for many homebuyers.

Do you think it’s a good time to buy a house in the current economic climate?

If you feel financially stable and have 3 to 6 months of living expenses saved, the current housing market could be a great opportunity to purchase. Mortgage rates are low, sellers may need to drop sale prices in order to make quick sales, and there is less buyer competition.

While the status of the housing market depends on how bad an outbreak an area is suffering, most markets are feeling some sort of hit. “The Coronavirus is leading to fewer home buyers searching in the marketplace, as well as some listings being delayed,” says Lawrence Yun, Chief Economist for the National Association of Realtors®. Conversely, here at St. Ambrose, our Real Estate program has been amazed at how active the market is during this crisis!

Bottom line: With fewer buyers in the marketplace, there is less competition plus the added benefit of historically low interest rates.

Will mortgage rates increase?

Based on a prediction from Freddie Mac and other housing authorities, rates will continue to hover around 3.32% for the next 90 days. Forecasts for 2020 say rates will average around 3.7%.

For instance, rates could bounce between 3.3% and 4% all year, and you’d get an average of around 3.7%. But when you lock in your rate during that range is important.

Still have questions? Please contact St. Ambrose’s Housing Counseling program at 410-366-8550 ext. 249.

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 410-366-8550 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.

Navigating Legal Challenges in the Wake of COVID-19

The current COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed a host of uncertainties in nearly every aspect of personal and public life across the state. St. Ambrose Legal Services is here to work with you to achieve clarity and confidence in challenging times. If you or anyone you know is in need of legal services, contact us today: legal@stambros.org.

Here are some of the questions our legal services team is addressing now:

Q: I recently lost my job due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What resources are available to me?

A: You may file for Unemployment Insurance benefits through the Maryland Department of Budget and Management. You can do so online at http://www.mdunemployment.com or via telephone at 1-877-293-4125 or 410-853-1600.

Q: I am afraid that I will be evicted from my house. Can that happen right now?

A: All foreclosure proceedings in Maryland are currently stayed. That means that no foreclosure case will process through the court system until further notice. Additionally, the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals of Maryland, our state supreme court, has suspended all evictions whether the property is owned with mortgage or rented from a landlord. Even in cases where evictions were previously authorized, Baltimore City and County have suspended evictions from taking place.

Q: Am I getting a check from the government?

A: The federal government recently passed the CARES Act, which will send money directly to millions of Americans. The Internal Revenue Service will use information from your 2018 or 2019 tax return to determine whether you are entitled to direct payment and the amount that you will receive. If your address has changed since filing and you do not have a direct deposit set up, you will need to contact the IRS to inform them. One way to do this is to call the IRS at 800-829-1040 from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm.

The Treasury Department recently stated that people receiving Social Security benefits will not need to file a tax return and will automatically receive either a paper check via mail or a direct deposit into a bank account.

If you have not filed taxes for 2018 or 2019 and receive income beyond Social Security benefits, you should file your 2019 taxes as soon as possible.

Q: I cannot afford to make my mortgage payment this month. What should I do?

A: The first thing you should do is contact your mortgage servicer and explain the situation. Your servicer may offer a forbearance, meaning that they will suspend your obligation to make monthly payments for a certain period of time. At the end of a forbearance, you will continue making the same monthly payments as before.

Q: I cannot afford to make my rent payment this month. What should I do?

A: You should contact your landlord and explain what is going on. They may offer to work with you on a payment plan or suspend your obligation to pay rent for a period of time. Your landlord CANNOT legally evict you without utilizing the services of your local Sheriff’s office.

Q: What should I do if I cannot afford to pay my utilities?

A: BGE has suspended all service disconnections and late payment fees until at least May 1 and will be working with customers to establish payment arrangements and identify energy assistance options. For further information, contact BGE at 800-685-0123.

Both Baltimore City and Baltimore County have suspended water shutoffs for failure to pay.

Could I be evicted_

Q: I have not paid my property tax. Can my property still go to tax sale?

A: Yes. The 2020 Baltimore City has been delayed, but may still occur this year. The 2020 Baltimore County tax sale is scheduled to take place in early May. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO LEAVE YOUR HOME IMMEDIATELY AFTER IT IS SOLD AT TAX SALE. Even after a property is sold at a tax sale, the owner has a right to pay what is owed (possibly along with fees) until at least six months after the tax sale.

Call the Legal Services Department at St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center for more information at 410-366-8550 extension 209.

Q: Can I still vote in the upcoming elections?

A: The Special Congressional District 7 Election (to replace Rep. Elijah Cummings) will be held exclusively by mail. If you live in the District and you are registered to vote, expect to receive a ballot in your mailbox in early April. In order to have your vote counted, if must be filled out and returned, postmarked on or before April 28, 2020.

The 2020 Primary Election will take place on June 2, 2020 from 7:00 am until 8:00 pm. Early voting will be open from Thursday, May 21 to Thursday, May 28.

Please keep up to date with the State Board of Elections as these dates and procedures are subject to change.

Q: What should I do if I need further assistance or receive a document that I do not understand?

A: You should contact the Legal Services Department at St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center at 410-366-8550, extension 209.

Q: Will any of this information change?

A: Maybe. This information was compiled in early April and all information is subject to change. Call the Legal Service Department at St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center at 410-366-8550, extension 209 with any questions you may have or to confirm that any of this information is still valid.

A Survivor’s Story

Ms. C. is the epitome of a survivor.

Ms. C. has been taking care of others practically her entire life, which she has spent all of in Baltimore. She has 13 brothers and sisters, three biological children and four foster children who she later adopted. Ms. C. was a nurse for many years in the City but when her son became very ill and hospitalized with asthma related illnesses, she could no longer work.

“I have also been a very sick person. Open heart surgery, breast cancer, bladder cancer… but I try very hard to take care of myself. I asked God for the strength, and He gave it to me.”

Ms. C. first came to St. Ambrose for Homeownership Counseling in the late 1980’s when she was looking to buy her first home. She said, “It was very helpful!” She also contemplated the Homesharing Program at St. Ambrose but then decided she was going to adopt her then foster children. She has lived in her home now for well over 20 years! “God has always been there for me; especially after finding my home.” 

Unexpectedly, severe rain and debris began rushing in from a hole in Ms. C.’s roof which was filling her children’s bedroom with water. She knew she had to do something. That’s when she decided to reach back out to St. Ambrose and the HUBS Program (Housing Upgrades to Benefit Seniors) for help.

HUBS is a program through which legacy homeowners can age-in-place by accessing much-needed home repairs and modifications to ensure housing stability for themselves and for future generations. Delays in processing requests for public home repair programs have led to a backlog of low-income older adults waiting to receive vital home repairs. “St. Ambrose rushed my roof job and made it a priority. ‘Home’ to me is my pride and my joy.”

“I have told several people that the HUBS program can assist older adults who have limited financial capabilities,” Ms. C. continued. “Older adults just don’t have money like that, but there are programs like HUBS that can help.”

Gail MacInnes, St. Ambrose HUBS Case Manager explains that “By providing support for critical home repairs or modifications to improve safety, HUBS helps older adults in Baltimore City to stay in their homes and to continue to thrive in their communities.” St. Ambrose became a HUBS site in October 2018 and has completed home modifications and accessibility concerns for 76 older adult households to date.

St. Ambrose is now a HUBS site! (Housing Upgrades to Benefit Seniors)

Housing Upgrades Benefiting Seniors (HUBS) is a program that assists older adults (over 65) in Baltimore city. This program allows seniors to continue to live in their homes and neighborhoods as they age by helping them with home repairs and modifications. Older Adults like Ms. G.

Ms. G. has been a lifelong member of the Baltimore community. Born and raised in the city, Ms. G. knew she wanted to devote her life to serving others. She started working at St. Agnes Hospital in Baltimore in 1965 registering patients at their time of need and loved every minute of it. Ms. G. moved into her home in 1986 with her husband, son and daughter. She came to know St. Ambrose through the pastor at her church, Garden of Prayer Christian Church. The pastor went above and beyond to connect his parishioners with St. Ambrose and the services that are available. Additionally, the church was an Adopt-A-Family participant and contributed yearly to this fund serving families who just need a little extra help.

Ms. G. was forced to retire after 33 years of service to St. Agnes Hospital due to a debilitating car accident resulting in four major surgeries over a 12-month period. The accident left her and her husband permanently and significantly disabled. Due to several years of medical issues following the death of her husband, Ms. G., like many clients, was left tackling the challenges of senior homeownership alone.

She came to St. Ambrose when faced with a homeownership crisis. Understandably, the routine maintenance of the home fell through the cracks which left her with a severe roof leak. Since she had no homeowners insurance, she was financially unable to make the repairs to her roof.

Over time, the leak became a gaping hole in the ceiling that had debris, snow and rain water rushing into her upstairs bedroom. She has maintained the leak with over 20 receptacles catching the rain water/snow/debris but it has become too much to handle. Although she has a son nearby and a friend to check on her, Ms. G. knew this was too big a problem for them to handle on their own. Ms. G. turned to St. Ambrose and the HUBS Program for help. Gail MacInnes, HUBS Case Manager, met with Ms. G. to devise a plan of action to make the repairs to her roof that she desperately needed. With the assistance of grant funding, St. Ambrose was able to facilitate the repairs which will allow her to utilize the space in her home while giving her the safety and security that she needs at this time in her life.

“I have lived in this home forever. I have put roots here. This home is what I have created and I can’t imagine living anywhere else. Thank you, St. Ambrose for giving me the ability to stay in my home. St. Ambrose has truly been a blessing in my life. I never knew how much fixing a roof could cost and I couldn’t have afforded it on my own, especially as a widow. I know there are many other seniors who could benefit from the services provided by the HUBS Program and St. Ambrose. They need to know they are not alone.”

In this way, the HUBS program assists seniors in remaining safe and independent in their own homes for as long as possible.

Four Strategies to Revive Homeownership

It’s not looking good for homeownership these days. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 63.7 percent of households owned their homes at the end of 2016, down from a peak of 69.2 percent in 2004. While there have been small increases in recent quarters, the homeownership trend since the financial crisis continues to trend downward. We need to reverse this pattern, and these four strategies will help.

IMG_1005

First, we have to demystify the process. More than two-thirds of adults in an Oct. 2016 national household opinion survey from NeighborWorks America described the homebuying process as complicated. Our network’s counselors report that a common refrain from customers they help to achieve homeownership is, “I never thought I could do this.” Because the purchase process is so complex, many potential homeowners don’t even try, essentially self-selecting out of their piece of the “American Dream.”

Increasing the homeownership rate in Baltimore will energize the local economy and create jobs from construction to retail.

Second, we have to return to rational credit standards. We shouldn’t return to the loose underwriting of the early 2000s. However, right now, credit standards are too tight and thus reduce the prospects for homeownership for many. A recent article by the Urban Institute noted that innovations in credit scoring practices could help up to 3 million first-time homebuyers across the country. Some of them certainly live here in Baltimore. The lending industry must seriously pursue such modifications.

Third, we need to do a better job in reaching out to low- and moderate-income consumers. These are the first-time buyers of the future and they are unsure about the path to homeownership. Nonprofit housing organizations have had a “field of dreams” mindset: if we’re here, homebuyers will find us. That’s not working. The NeighborWorks survey mentioned above also found that fewer than 10 percent of consumers think of nonprofits like St. Ambrose first when considering how to achieve homeownership. Our organization and others working to increase homeownership, especially among first-time buyers, need to act more like businesses and seek out these types of customers. Word of mouth isn’t enough.

Fourth, we must overcome financial obstacles. Home prices are increasing in nearly all markets. Here in Baltimore, the median price is approximately $102,750, and the stereotypical 20 percent down payment is out of reach for most first-time buyers. However, the truth is, consumers don’t need a 20 percent down payment to purchase a home these days. In some cases, just a 3 percent down payment is required. However, not every lender offers flexible mortgages.

homeownership graphic

By working with St. Ambrose and other housing nonprofits, consumers will learn about the lenders who offer 3 percent down-payment mortgages. In addition, they also will be made aware of the potentially millions of dollars in down-payment assistance funds available to Baltimore home buyers. The NeighborWorks survey showed that only one-third of consumers are aware of down- payment programs for middle-income buyers.

While there isn’t an unlimited supply of down-payment assistance, if more consumers knew to seek it and sought information from nonprofit organizations, the homeownership rate would increase. That’s good for individuals, families and Baltimore.