NeighborWorks America in Baltimore

St. Ambrose is a member of the NeighborWorks Network. NeighborWorks America is a congressionally chartered organization that supports a network of 240 organizations across the nation who share a collective vision of building strong communities and creating affordable housing opportunities.

In late July NeighborWorks staff and network members gathered together for a peer sharing of lessons learned and best practices from our work. It was a reunion of the Northeast and Southern regions of the NeighborWorks network and Baltimore had the special privilege of playing host to this diverse and driven group of housing and community development leaders.

While enjoying the conference and learning from our peers, we connected with a few of the attendees to find out what they learned at the meeting, and what they loved about Baltimore!

Maybeth Morales-Davis, Director of Development and Public Relations at Neighborhood Housing Services of Waterbury: Waterbury, CT

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Favorite meal in Baltimore?

Oysters at Ryleigh’s Oyster in Federal Hill

Something you’re excited to take back to your organization?

There are so many things that I have to take away, but especially being more organized. I know that I can save so much time with an editorial calendar and making the time to create a plan will be a big help in the long run.

James Ross, Relationship Manager at NeighborWorks America  in New Orleans, LAJames ross

Favorite meal in Baltimore?

Crabcakes at Koco’s!

Something interesting you learned in Baltimore?

Learning about how eHome America started. I knew some of the founders of the program, but I didn’t know how everyone was really brought together to make it happen- that was really cool.

Amanda Meyers, Marketing Manager at Housing Development Corporation MidAtlantic: Lancaster, PA

Amanda Meyers.jpgFavorite meal or experience in Baltimore? 

Eating in Little Italy and coming out to see the lights strung up around the neighborhood. Walking around the harbor, watching the paddle boats, stopping by the World Trade Center for a moment of Reflection at the Sept. 11th memorial.

Best thing about the NeighborWorks convening?

New connections! Networking with peers and understanding how each other’s shops work was extremely beneficial. I’m leaving with names and email addresses of people I can continue to connect with when I get back to my organization.

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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.

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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.

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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.

What’s your St. Ambrose Story?

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This June 8th, St. Ambrose invites YOU to join us at the Motor House to tell one true and personal story about the impact (little or big!) that St. Ambrose has had on your home or your community. Bring a story to share or just come to listen! Thinking of telling your St. Ambrose story? Here are 5 tips to help you prepare:

  1. 1. Tell ONE true, personal story. Tell a story about a single experience, moment,  conflict, or challenge from your time with St. Ambrose. The 3-minute time limit is firm, so don’t bite off too big a tale to tell.
  2. Tell a story that means something to you. Listeners care when they know the storyteller cares. How did the events of the story you’re telling change you, even in a small way? How does the story reveal something larger about St. Ambrose?
  3. Start close to the action. Begin your story so that you can get to the heart of it pretty quickly. Often the clearest beginnings are the best: “In 2006, I came to St. Ambrose for….”
  4. Leave out anything that’s not vital to the story you’re telling. Did we mention it’s just 3 minutes? 🙂
  5. Share your story as if you were telling it to a group of friends. That means no notes, no scripts, no memorizing. Take the risk of being honest and vulnerable. The more you can be in the moment, the more powerful a connection you can forge with the audience.

Tickets to the event are $25 and include a complementary happy hour at 6:00 PM followed by the Stoop Storytelling show and dessert. You can purchase tickets here. If you have any questions about the event, contact Carla at 410-366-8550 x 245 or email carlah@stambros.org.

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NeighborWorks Training Institute: Philadelphia

If you happened to be at Penn Station on Sunday August 19th, you would have been surrounded by neighborhood advocates eagerly awaiting the Amtrak train to the NeighborWorks Training Institute (NTI) in Philadelphia. An NTI is an opportunity for anyone interested in community development to take courses, learn from organizations and community leaders from around the country, and network. This training opportunity is a pillar of NeighborWorks America, which is a national organization that works to strengthen communities by supporting local community organizations through training, technical assistance, and grant making. From classes on community engagement and neighborhood revitalization to housing counseling certifications and grant writing courses, NTI is a place for anyone working for a better community to learn and grow.

We talked to five NTI attendants from organizations around Baltimore about their experiences at the institute and the impact of those experiences on their everyday work in supporting strong communities in Baltimore. Funders in Baltimore and beyond made this opportunity possible for our community leaders by providing scholarships to cover conference costs for participants. The five NTI participants interviewed received support from Wells Fargo, Goldseker Foundation, The Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers, and NeighborWorks. Here’s what they have to say about their experience in Philly:

Christina Delgado,Community Engagement Specialist, Belair-Edison Neighborhoods
At Christina’s first NeighborWorks Training Institute her experiences helped to validate many of her thoughts and impressions about the field of community development. “I think what stood out for me most was that developing youth and organizing them to help within the community can really help to solve a lot of the other issues/problems within the community. Another thing was to keep programs going throughout the year to organize members; the worst thing you can do is stop during the cold months…it ruins the momentum that you’ve created during the spring, summer, and fall.”
Christina also found inspiration in the city of Philadelphia itself. Below are her pictures from a vacant lot development project in Philadelphia by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.
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Drawing from lessons in effective asset community building and real world examples of vacant lot development and developing youth as community leaders in the city of Philadelphia, has empowered her in the conversations that she has with residents and community partners in Belair-Edison.
 
Jacqueline CaldwellPresident 
One of Jackie’s most influential courses was The Asset Building Community Development workshop. This course focused on communicating your message through emphasizing a community’s assets, rather than the community’s deficits. Developing the dialogue in this way has impacted the way that Jackie communicates with the media as well as potential partners and funders.

Jackie’s main takeaway? “It was great to be around people who truly have a heart- we are committed to making a positive change in our community…I learned that I am not alone when it comes to the need for operating support and positive collaborations.”

 
Judy RiceRental Services Administrative AssistantSt. Ambrose
“I gained more awareness of the various functions of my department and appreciation for others. When I came back to the office I told Bill [Director of Rental Services] how much I appreciated all of the responsibility he held as the Director… and the maintenance staff too, their job is so important to what we do.”
 

Judy exchanged numbers with some of her collegues that she made strong connections with from around the country and enjoyed learning alongside others with similar goals from places as far away as California and Alaska. She commented that she was able to learn a lot about the affordable housing industry by listening to and comparing the everyday practices of rental agencies from around the country.

Dr. Frank Lance,Treasurer,
“Two of the three courses I took changed what I do daily.  The first, Engaging Universities within your Community was most helpful as I have both Coppin and BCCC in Greater Mondawmin. The course materials have helped me to open doors and see possibilities I did not approach well before.The second course, Getting the Press on Your Side, has helped me to understand what is press worthy from the media’s perspective and to then write press releases that will get their attention.”
For Frank, his week in Philadelphia was “definitely time well spent because of the material learned and the connections made.” Frank was able to form a strong connection with his course instructors who have made themselves available if their support is ever needed in the future. Spending time with others facing the same challenges and working towards the same goals was also a source of inspiration for Frank, “I am not alone in my struggles with my issues. And, someone else has been there before and can offer help and advice.”
 
Tiffany Welch, MSW, Healthy Food Access and Food Justice Organizer,
Tiffany’s course on effective communication has influenced her day to day work as an advocate for her community. Informing and engaging members of her community as well as recruiting supporters and funders all takes the ability to succinctly communicate your message in a way that grabs the attention of others. Developing this skill is important and meaningful for Tiffany to be an effective Food Justice Advocate.
Tiffany was able to make a connection with colleagues from organizations in Boston, MA and Camden, NJ who work in similar urban environments to her target neighborhoods in Central West Baltimore. The group’s meaningful discussions led them to “share funding resources and engagement strategies. The common thread between our organizations was the need to engage and empower residents, immediately and long term.”
 Tiffany
“There are so many agencies around the country that are trying to strengthen communities and increase resident involvement, whether in whole communities or housing districts. The main take away for me was to have an effective communication platform. No Boundaries is not a service delivery organization like many of the participants at NTI; we are an advocacy group. It is crucial for our organization to clearly disseminate our messages and work, not only to sustain ourselves but also to grow.”
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Taking the time to refocus on our organizations’ missions and realign our unique roles in furthering that mission, enables us to more effectively work towards the collective vision of creating a stronger, healthier #onebaltimore.

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Home Matters: Renting and Owning

The MacArthur Foundation published a recent report that indicates that Americans are not totally convinced that the ‘housing crisis’ is over and many, while still adhering to the dream of homeownership, are willing to wait awhile before embarking on that effort.

”  A strong desire remains among Americans to own their own home – in fact, greater than seven in 10 renters aspire to own one day.  However, the overall appeal of renting versus owning is changing.  Fifty-seven (57%) of adults believe that “buying has become less appealing,” and by nearly the same proportion (54%), a majority believes that “renting has become more appealing” than it was before.”

Lifestyle changes, as evidenced by a more mobile younger population who are willing to relocate for work, account for some of the shift.  However, increases in rents charged and historically low mortgage interest rates remain factors in this major financial decision.  To read more about this subject visit: http://www.macfound.org/programs/how-housing-matters/

Homebuyer education as foreclosure prevention

homeownershipNew research has been released on the effectiveness of pre-purchase housing counseling and education – a core service available at St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center. The research found that homebuyers who received counseling were one-third less likely to fall behind on their mortgages 90 days or more, two years after taking out the loan, compared to homebuyers who did not receive similar counseling and education. The research was done for NeighborWorks America, a national nonprofit affiliated with St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, by Neil Mayer and Associates and Experian, and is based on approximately 75,000 mortgage loans originated in 2007, 2008 and 2009.

Read the Executive Summary here >>

Read the Full Report here >>

The research findings have important implications for St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center and the entire housing counseling and education industry.  While we have long known anecdotally that pre-purchase housing counseling and education provided by certified professionals at St. Ambrose is effective at helping to create homeowners who are less likely to default, this research provides significant backup.

The NeighborWorks America research shows how a small investment up front that finances the availability of pre-purchase housing counseling and education can help homeowners avoid financial losses by potentially staving off serious delinquency that has a good chance of extending into foreclosure, help prevent disruption of family life, and help keep communities stable that might be hurt by home foreclosure.

Estimates vary, but total losses due to foreclosure borne by local governments, servicers and households can exceed $50,000 per foreclosure, according to a report from the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress.

According to the Mortgage Bankers Association National Delinquency Survey for the fourth quarter of 2012, the percentage of residential mortgage loans 90 days or more past due across the country was 6.78 percent, and 3.74 percent of homeowners nationwide were in foreclosure. By providing NeighborWorks pre-purchase housing counseling and education to more consumers, it’s likely that tens of thousands of the more than 1.5 million homeowners who received a default notice in 2012 may have been able to avoid entering foreclosure.

Repeat Homebuyers

Interestingly, the NeighborWorks America research shows that even repeat homebuyers benefit from receiving NeighborWorks pre-purchase housing counseling and education. According to the report, repeat homebuyers who received the services also are about one-third less likely to fall 90 days or more behind in their mortgages than repeat homebuyers who didn’t receive NeighborWorks pre-purchase housing counseling and education.

“More analysis of the data is required to determine the factors for the repeat homebuyer results,” said NeighborWorks America CEO Eileen Fitzgerald. “But one thing is clear from the data: housing counseling is effective, even if you’ve been a homeowner before.”