Summer at St. Ambrose: My Introduction into St. Ambrose

As a recent graduate of the University of Maryland, I am slowly becoming more cognizant of the vast range of responsibilities that accompany entrance into adulthood. The “college life” allowed for an extended period of youth, wherein everything from living and eating, to a gym membership was simply waiting for me: I did not have to figure life out, I simply signed up. So now, as I am preparing to attend law school, get an apartment, start repaying loans, find transportation for navigating the city, buy and prepare food for myself, etc., I realize that I cannot just sign up; I have to figure out exactly what I am signing up for. One fundamental need that adults must figure out and sign up for, is homeownership or renter-ship, as having a secure refuge is intrinsic to subsistence and well-being. I, in my extended youth, have taken for granted the reality that having a space that is a home, is the product of a complex process, and furthermore that the security a home is expected to provide may be confounded by the insecurity that the processes of home owning and renting are disposed to.

Over the summer, I am interning as a legal assistant at St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, a community-based nonprofit organization that focuses on providing housing opportunities and assistance to people living in the surrounding neighborhoods. The legal department of St. Ambrose specializes in providing representation for foreclosure mediation as well as advice on legal issues that may be encountered throughout the process of owning a home. During my first few days here, as I have listened to the attorneys discuss cases, witnessed meetings between attorneys and clients, performed intake calls where clients describe their housing issues, and observed mediations in which an individual attempts to save her/his home, my vocabulary has been flooded with terms whose meanings and significance were previously foreign to me. My ignorance of terminology such as foreclosure, mortgage, equity, title, deed, affidavit, short sale, under-water, loss mitigation, modification, bankruptcy, and so on signaled my lack of understanding of what it means to own a home, retain that ownership, and what happens when that ownership is compromised or threatened.

My ignorance of home-owning, could be attributed to a number of explanations, including the naiveté of youth; whatever the cause, however, the basic question for myself and others who are similarly uninformed is, how do I become educated about home owning, retention, and loss, so that I can figure out what I am signing up for? From whom do I learn what the intricacies and jargon of home owning processes actually mean and require of me? Where do I learn what and when I am entitled to assistance or protections? Follow me on this blog series, “Summer at St. Ambrose”, as I participate in the culture of St. Ambrose, learning not only the answers to housing questions, but also the variety of ways in which St. Ambrose influences community strength by helping to form a foundation of informed and stable homeowners.

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The Brookings Institution Does Baltimore

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

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

This is great news!

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

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

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

Character Is Key

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Why are you attached to Baltimore?

Happy Birthday, New Communities

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

Overview:

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

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

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

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

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

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