Up from the Ashes

 On April 6th, 1968 the city of Baltimore, along with 125 other cities around the country, was in a state of unrest. Spurred by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., riots began all throughout the city, leaving 6 dead, 700 injured, and more than 1,000 businesses burned to the ground.  

Among the burned-down buildings were the small alley houses on 23 1/2 street. Alley houses were specifically designed to provide housing to lower-income families in the city. Baltimore builders learned to lay out blocks with “small streets” in the backyard of the larger 2-3 story row houses where they could construct several more smaller row homes or alley houses.  The burned- down street meant less housing was available for the working poor in Baltimore.

Two women look in the window of the burned down alley homes of 23 1/2 Street

St. Ambrose purchased and rehabbed all eleven of the houses on 23 1/2 Street in the late 1970s.  The renovations turned these reminders of destruction and unrest into beautiful, affordable rentals. These buildings were brought up from the ashes to become homes once again for families in the city. 


And St. Ambrose makes sure they stay beautiful and affordable. In late October 2009, work began on five of these rental properties that were slated for an energy upgrade. The houses received a “green” makeover that has helped to keep the properties affordable by lowering utility and maintenance costs for residents. Just some of the updates that made the homes more energy friendly include replacing unvented bath fans, installing “cool roofs,”  and adding more insulation and new heating units.

The total savings for the residents are substantial. Besides rent, utilities are the single largest housing expense for our residents-who are responsible for all utility costs. The energy upgrades can save households close to 40% on their monthly utility bills. These savings help to keep the houses affordable for our residents, just like they were originally intended, even as utility costs continue to go up.



The Maryland Housing Fund: 1971

The creation of the Maryland Housing Fund represents one of the first big victories for St. Ambrose in its early years.

“The picketing of the savings and loans was one of the best things we’ve done.  It led to the creation of the Maryland Housing Fund.  It was probably the most creative things we’ve done in our history.  Joe Delclos and Frank Fischer joined us at that time in the mid 70s.  We moved our office from York Road to our current location.  Banks were nervous about making loans to our families because of the condition of our houses.  Some of the houses needed roof and furnace repairs, which could be expensive for a family that didn’t have much money.  We went to the Maryland Housing Fund and asked them if they would let us put a new roof and furnace on our houses and the would still insure the houses for the increased value.  We got $100,000 from the Abell Foundation to start our home improvement department.  With this we were able to help about 20 families.”

-Vinnie Quayle

Today the fund still works to insure mortgage loans and assists State citizens  to secure housing. The Fund uses a variety of innovative mortgage insurance programs to stimulate the flow of private investment capital into Maryland

“A Story of Support”

Brendan Fitzpatrick with Executive Director Gerard Joab

Brendan Fitzpatrick tells the story of how became a St. Ambrose supporter, first as a friend of a staff attorney and then as a member of the Legal Advisory Committee.

“Even though my association with St. Ambrose pales in comparison to the good work that the [staff does], it’s something that I’m proud to be associated with, even at an arm’s length away.”


Lakia and Sa’Nyia’s Story

Lakia and Sa’Nyia first became St. Ambrose supporters and advocates in 2014 when Lakia called the office to see if we would accept donations of school supplies. She had already reached out to several organizations around the city without any luck when a friend had mentioned she look into a place “on 25th Street.” Her friend couldn’t remember the name, but Lakia did a little digging and found St. Ambrose.

Lakia started the school supplies drive because she knew that so often school supplies drives happening in the city don’t end up reaching the kids who need it the most, either because they can’t get there or they don’t have the resources or network to even know about it. Her own experiences growing up in Baltimore were one of her biggest motivators to start organizing the drive.“I wanted to target children who get overlooked.”

Lakia is a hair stylist and recently opened up her own salon. Being an entrepreneur means Lakia always stays busy, so her daughter Sa’Nyia helps put it all together by collecting schools supplies lists from different schools and assembling over 40 book bags with the supplies needed for each grade. “Every year our house looks like Wal-Mart” Sa’Nyia said of the process. The pair receives donations and support from friends and family from as far away as Los Angeles and even Johannesburg.

Lakia and Sa’Nyia help distribute the supplies to the children and youth living in our rental homes and in Homesharing matches each year on Sa’Nyia’s birthday.  “I want her to be well-rounded.” Lakia says of raising her daughter with experiences like this. “I want her to try things and find her own way,” and also, to know the value of giving back!

Frank Fischer, on Foreclosure Counseling in 2007

“I think we might have been one of the first places in the country to do default counseling.

The problem in default counseling is the immoral or unfair loans that are given to people.  I guess we can still call them predatory loans.  It’s tragic because people are losing their houses left and right because the loans are so bad.

The problem with loans today is the original lenders and brokers have defaulted on their fiduciary responsibility to their clients.  This responsibility is exactly the opposite of what they do in practice.  They lie to the client and withhold information.  They don’t act for the best interest of the clients.  They make money for themselves to the detriment of the client.

That’s the whole problem with this city. They put people in houses they couldn’t afford or get people to refinance and give them bad loans.  My goal would be to have that stopped.  We could expose it more and more and perhaps work on legislation preventing it.  A lot of times this stuff is legal.  The spoken word has led the client to understand the opposite of what the client signs on paper.  So it’s legal, but to my point of view immoral.

That is the big thing in Baltimore in housing.”

– Frank Fischer, July 2007

The St. Ambrose Mortgage Default Counseling program, now called Foreclosure Prevention Counseling, began in the mid-1970’s in response to a request from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Mortgage Default Counseling was the first expansion of services beyond the organization’s grass roots activism and homeownership education services.

“The Partnership”

Ralph Moore comments on the secret to St. Ambrose’s success over the last 50 years through the story of a woman who found her footing in a St. Ambrose rental home. Ralph is a former staff and board member.

A Homesharing Match that Stuck

A story of lives, love, and culture shared as told by Annette Leahy Maggitti, Homesharing pioneer and veteran. 

The following is an excerpt from the Homesharing Newsletter: Fall 2002. 

There are some people who are just made for home­sharing, and Shirley is just that kind of person. A vibrant woman in her 70’s, she had recently purchased her home and wanted to share it. Shirley is respectful of life and the environment, and she thought it unfair to have a three-bedroom home and have only one bedroom being used! On a fixed income, the extra money would certainly help, and being a gregarious, open individual, it was only natural that she would want some companionship.

Her flexibility was probably her greatest asset when it came to homesharing. She wanted a respectable person whom he could trust, but culture, race, age and status meant absolutely nothing to her. In the five years she has been with us, she has had 6 homesharers, the latest was with Yong, the subject of this not so usual match!

Yong came from China and enrolled in the International Business Program at the University of Baltimore. In the student housing guide, St. Ambrose was listed. He wanted a quiet, peaceful place to live and work. Shirley welcomed him as she had with all of her former housemates. She had hosted Korean students, Indian contract workers and American youngsters making the break from living under their parents’ roof. Yong knew from the first interview with Shirley that this was the place for him. They shared their culture and interests. He prepared Chinese dumplings and she introduced him to American sweets!

Almost a year into their time together, a colleague of Yong’s needed a place to “hang her hat,” and Shirley had a very small room that she was willing to rent. Yong and his friend, who at the time were “just friends”, became more enamored of each other and announced that they had decided to get married.

They asked Shirley to be one of their witnesses. She was thrilled beyond words! Shirley hosted a reception at her home, combining American culture and food with Chinese decorations and delicacies. Neighbors, friends, students, professors, family members and St. Ambrose staff, the initial matchmakers, celebrated another success!