“St. Ambrose agency helps battle shady contractors”

A home should be a secure place.  A home should be a place that protects you. So how can making a few minor repairs, which should ensure that safety, end up putting homeowners in danger of losing their whole house? In the late ‘80’s, an increasing rate of home improvement fraud put vulnerable homeowners in our community in exactly that position. As long ago as 1989,St. Ambrose recognized the need for access to civil justice and the above article tells that story.


The following is an excerpt from an article in “The Evening Sun” published on December 5th, 1989.

St. Ambrose agency helps battle shady contractors by Nancy Pick

“Helen Willett was almost forced to pay $8,000 for seven leaky windows and a door.

But St. Ambrose Legal Services, which specializes in fighting unscrupulous home improvement contractors, intervened and negotiated the price down to $2,300.

‘I won’t have that worry any more,’ said Willett, a bakery worker who lives with her ailing mother in a South Baltimore rowhouse.

Since the legal services agency was launched in July 1988, it has looked into more than 100 cases of alleged home improvement fraud in Baltimore.

Typically the contractors charge outrageous fees for shoddy work, and often prey upon elderly women who live alone. The victims put their homes at risk, unknowingly signing a second mortgage to finance the repairs.

The legal services staff resolves some complaints itself, while farming out the more complex cases to lawyers who have volunteered to handle them for free.

Because the agency is funded by the Maryland Legal Services Corp., it is limited to helping low-income people. The current income ceiling is $23,200 a year for a family of four.

The non-profit MLSC provides legal representation in civil case to people who otherwise could not afford it.

St. Ambrose Legal Services was founded in wake of major home improvement fraud in the Baltimore area, including one scheme that led to a class-action lawsuit by nearly 500 low-income homeowners.”

A Thank You to our Neighbors

When you think of the word neighbor, who comes to mind?  Neighbors can make us think of a whole community of people.  Some we know very well, and have been afforded the great joy of getting to share in their lives.  Some we may not know well at all, but their presence alone encourages us think more of the community we are surrounded by.

We have been so fortunate to come across so many good neighbors over the years.  We had to take this chance to recognize them on this National Good Neighbor Day!  Their stories bring to light the great impact our fellow community members have on us, and the wonderful sensations accompanied by embracing those connections. Our homesharers in particular are shining examples of people who go above and beyond to help others.

Karen Heyward-West, director of the Homesharing Program, spoke to Mr. Jones, who was matched with Ms. Smith and her 8 year-old grandson. He was happy to report that they all were getting along extremely well (Names of clients have been changed to protect their identity).

“First the ability to help people find a home is important to me,” Mr Jones commented. “Second this match is perfect; I adore this child, and can tell that he is safe, stable, and very happy.  I even brought him a dog.”

“In my wildest dreams I would have never thought that my life would be enhanced by sharing my home.  Homesharing for me is a long term solution for people like me and Ms. Smith. It’s not always about the money it’s about the person you are and can become when you are happy!”

Ms. Smith also shared her story with Homesharing.

“I can now see a light at the end of the tunnel.  I can plan my funds better, purchase food on a regular basis.  I am providing a stable home environment for my grandson.  Who would have thought that Homesharing would allow me to put a smile on my face let alone my Grandson. I have learned through Homesharing that it’s not always about having your name on the deeds, but it’s about having a place to call home.”

Thank you to all the good neighbors, who help us find and create homes.  Thank you for being a part of our lives.  We are exceptionally grateful for you, who so graciously reach from the bottom of your heart to lend us a hand. We hope we can be good neighbors to you too.

What neighbors are you grateful for? What impact have they had on your life?



Continue reading “A Thank You to our Neighbors”

Restoring, Renovating and Revitalizing: A story of Belair-Edison

Shanice and her son
Jaquan, on their front porch.

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.

On the front lines of the Foreclosure Crisis

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.


Mayor and New Coalition announce assistance to homeowners facing threat of foreclosure during the 311 Initiative Kick-Off at Herring Run Park in Belair-Edison.
(In Order of Speaking): Commissioner Paul T. Graziano; Mayor Martin O’Malley; Bill Richardson, Governor of New Mexico; Marietta Rodriguez, director of NeighborWorks Center for Foreclosure Solutions, NeighborWorks America, Washington D.C.; Colleen Hernandez, President, Homeownership Preservation Foundation, Minneapolis; Mary Louise Preis, VP for Community Relations, CitiFinancial, and Former Maryland Commissioner for Financial Regulation; Vincent P. Quayle, Executive Director, St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, Baltimore

Back to School with CohnReznick

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.

Trevon and his sister Akaya have been living in a St. Ambrose rental home almost their whole lives. When they come to pick up book bags, they warmly greet the familiar faces at St. Ambrose. Trevon will be a senior this year. He is excited about finishing his high school education as well as looking forward to a great final year with his football team.
Tabatha comes in with her daughters to pick up a book bag for her oldest child, who will be entering 6th grade. They have been with St. Ambrose for 6 years. Tabatha tells her second oldest daughter that she will get a book bag next year when she starts Preschool.
Tamierra is pictured here with our own Mary Ann. She picked up book bags for her 3 children, two in Kindergarten and one in first grade.

A Volunteer’s Perspective

The group of Lutheran Volunteer Corps members located in Baltimore ready to lend a helping hand.

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.