Shanice had been a renter for over 10 years. She was hesitant to take the leap into homeownership, but her desire to provide a stable environment for her teenage son was much stronger than any fears she may have had. Even though the journey was long, Shanice was diligent, and found a home in Belair-Edison. She admires all the beautiful renovations to her new home, and loves that her block is filled with homeowners who care
Belair-Edison was once a community plagued by high foreclosure rates and a stagnant real estate market. In the 80s and 90s especially, the area experienced a high rate of resident turnover. The instability in the housing market opened the door for many predatory practices and speculative investors. Belair-Edison Neighborhoods, Inc. (BENI) is a nonprofit, community-based organization that has been working to help strengthen the area. In 2000 they adopted the Healthy Neighborhoods approach, which focused on middle neighborhoods that could be losing their value. BENI set out to raise property values by implementing high standards for physical conditions. They wanted to get residents personally invested in the community and each other. With these initiatives BENI found they were able to boost community morale, confidence, and resident involvement.
St. Ambrose serves as BENI’s development partner by acquiring foreclosed and distressed houses for beautiful renovation and sale to new homeowners. For more than 20 years, St. Ambrose has been dedicated to restoring and strengthening the Belair-Edison community, and in that time have renovated and sold 192 houses. Currently we are renovating 5 more houses in the community with another 3 awaiting a construction start date. The renovated homes complement BENI’s work to help establish and maintain high standards in the neighborhood. This in turn encourages neighborhood homeowners to make necessary repairs to their homes in an effort to maintain the integrity and value of the community.
St. Ambrose has a long tradition of partnering with other organizations. We know we can achieve much more when we collaborate with others, who supplement our own skills or bring additional expertise that can broaden the scope of our projects. We are grateful to work with Belair-Edison Neighboorhoods, Inc., so that together we can offer a more comprehensive approach to community development.
In 2006 the nation was experiencing an unbelievable spike in the number of foreclosures. From December, foreclosure rates would rise one-hundred percent over the next year. One of the primary reasons for this dramatic increase was the high number of adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) that were resetting to higher rates. Adjustable rate mortgages fluctuated with the market, and a monthly payment could easily double. It became too easy for homeowners to fall behind in payments, and consequently face the threat of foreclosure. With an estimated two million ARMs resetting in 2007, the problem quickly overwhelmed the nation.
In response, the federal government established a HOPE Hotline where homeowners could call for advice about their loan payment options. However, the hotline did not use government officials. Instead it relied on non-profit organizations. St. Ambrose was one of the many organizations prepared to help homeowners.
Anticipating the extreme amount of calls from the hotline, St. Ambrose began adding and training new staff. Their team consisted of some exceptionally experienced default mortgage counselors, who were able to contact lenders, and help homeowners work out payment agreements. In a few special cases, staff attorneys were even able to reverse foreclosure proceedings.
One of St. Ambrose’s counselors Frank Fischer explained the situation in this way, “In the past, [people] fell behind in their mortgages because they lost their job, or their marriage broke up or they got sick. Now the problem is the loan itself, not that something has happened to the family. It’s a lousy loan.”
In 2007 St. Ambrose more than doubled their average number of clients to serve nearly 2,000 families. While comparatively the need is not as extreme, foreclosure prevention still remains an integral part of St. Ambrose’s services. In the last fiscal year, St. Ambrose counselors assisted 258 families with foreclosure prevention or financial counseling.
Last week St. Ambrose received a donation of 25 book bags filled with school supplies from CohnReznick. Everything from notebooks, binders, scissors, and colored pencils were stuffed inside ready to be put to use by the students living in St. Ambrose’s rental properties, so they can start the new school year fresh. The students who received the donations range from kindergarten to seniors in high school.
CohnReznick has been partnering with St. Ambrose since 2010. As a business located in downtown Baltimore, CohnReznick is always looking for a way to give back to the community that they call home. “What better way to serve the community than by ensuring that its future generation begins the school year with the materials they need to succeed,” says Lani Warsaw, a CohnReznick team member. As a company who often works with the affordable housing industry, St. Ambrose felt like a natural partner for their charitable outreach. Along with book bag donations, they also contribute to St. Ambrose’s Adopt a-family” campaign.
For over 30 years St. Ambrose has partnered with different institutions to connect young adults with volunteer opportunities. I am a member of one of their partners, the Lutheran Volunteer Corps (LVC). As a LVC volunteer, we are sent out all over the country to pair with different non-profits for a year of service with very intentional goals. Our training strongly encourages us to become immersed in a community. They told us to get to know the neighborhood, and more importantly our neighbors, with the underlying goal of what LVC refers to as “building inclusive community.” We are encouraged to facilitate strong networks of diverse and unique people.
I find it remarkable and so exciting to have a placement that is taking physical and concrete steps to meet this seemingly abstract goal. In my few short weeks working with St. Ambrose I have seen the commitment to building up neighborhoods—not just by providing houses, but by building communities. I have seen the strong desire to connect community members with each other by creating quality and stable homes where people feel comfortable and excited about building a life integrated with their neighbors. From Homesharing, to renovation, to counseling and more, I am eager to work with St. Ambrose as they engage the community to make it stronger.
Before coming to Baltimore, I knew little about the city. Through St. Ambrose, I am starting to feel a little more connected by learning important history and discovering some specific needs of the community. I am looking forward to this year, and to making this place my home.