Miracle at Johnston Square

The Martin de Porres Center serves as an inspiring model of what we can all do to provide better housing for our citizens.  This St. Ambrose project converted a former school building into modern apartments for twelve families in 1980.  The project “confirmed our faith in the unlimited potential of human effort and cooperation.” 1

Long a depressed area, the Johnston Square community was in desperate need of affordable family housing. We worked closely with members of the community and came up with the idea to renovate the nearby Martin de Porres School, a 130-year-old building that had been closed by the Archdiocese of Baltimore in 1978. After being approached with our plan to renovate the school the Archdiocese agreed to donate the building.

Starting with a successful bake sale sponsored by the Johnston Square community, we launched a campaign to raise money for the enormous construction costs.  We received substantial financial support from the City of Baltimore, the State of Maryland, the federal government, and USF&G Insurance, and many other partners.

Employing more than 25 local Johnston Square residents, construction crews completed the renovations in nine months. Because of the gracious help and cooperation of all these concerns, twelve families, selected by representatives from the community, moved into the new Martin de Porres Center in February of 1982.

“The Martin de Porres conversion is an excellent example of what can be achieved by cooperative efforts involving the community, government, the church, and private industry. Under the creative and dedicated leadership of St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, a vacant building that had traditionally served the community has been recycled to provide much needed housing for the East Baltimore community. Baltimore can be proud of the Center’s accomplishments.”      -Former Mayor Wiliam Donald Schaefer

Click on the photos below to see the construction process.

1 Quote from St. Ambrose pamphlet on Martin de Porres transformation

Preserving Affordable Rental Housing

Through their Priority Markets Program, the Wells Fargo Foundation has awarded $80,000 to St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center for the preservation of affordable rental apartments in the Hampden community of North Baltimore. The award provides funding needed for St. Ambrose to begin a comprehensive renovation of their Union Ave. Apartments.  This garden style apartment complex is home to 54 families.

Beyond the replacement of heating and hot water systems throughout the Union Ave. complex within the last five years, only routine maintenance has occurred since the initial renovation in 1996.  However, the property needs a substantial renovation to the interior and exterior to assure that it meets the competitive standards of today’s market in a neighborhood that has been trending upward for several years. The planned upgrades include the addition of central air conditioning and removal and replacement of window units.   The agency is holding units vacant to enable an in-place rehab.  Residents from an entire building will relocate to renovated vacant units allowing for the total renovation of one building at a time. 

With a severe lack of affordable housing rentals in Baltimore, the funding from Wells Fargo represents a significant investment in the Hampden community and helps improve the quality of life for the residents of the Union Ave. apartment complex. Union Ave. provides affordable homes for families, which are close to public transportation and schools, in a neighborhood bustling with newer developments.  The anticipated start date for the renovation is the summer of 2018 and St. Ambrose is committed to creating a property that demonstrates affordable rental housing can blend into a desired urban aesthetic and be an asset within the community.

On Jan. 29, in the brightly colored auditorium of the Roosevelt Recreation Center, St. Ambrose program directors Bill Rubin and David Sann, presented the renovation plans to a group of 30 Hampden community members and the Hampden Community Council. The directors answered questions, assuring the community that no residents would be displaced and that the renovation plans were designed to keep the construction period short. Overall, there was appreciation for the planned building renovations to improve living conditions for the Union Ave. apartment complex residents. “I’m glad those people are getting nicer homes,” said one participant in the meeting. “And for the rest of us going by it will look good. With a unanimous vote, the council agreed to write a letter of support for the project.

St. Ambrose thanks Wells Fargo and the Hampden Community for their support in creating better housing opportunities in Baltimore.


Advocating for Host Homes: Christina’s Story

Christina, aka Jolley, has been homeless for almost three years. She stayed with friends for several months while looking for a permanent place to call home for her and her kids.

“If I had permanent housing before all this had happened, my life would be completely different. I think that I would still be in school or at a better job that I’m in right now. I could really support my kids how I really wanted to. It would just be perfect.”

Our Host Home Program helps people like Christina find stability. Listen to her story below as she tells us what it means to a safe and secure home.

Want to learn more about the Host Home Program? Contact Renee Stainrod at renees@stambros.org or at 410-366-8550 X 233

Women Religious, Investments for Good

Organizations like St. Ambrose can do little without the support of individuals and other partnering organizations. With their help we are able to build a stronger network of services and resources for our communities.  Religious organizations are one group of supporters who helped St. Ambrose during our early years, and still do today through impact investing.

Early in the 1970s congregations of Catholic Nuns, more commonly known today as Women Religious, began a trend of investing in communities using loans to create a more direct and significant effect on social justice causes. It was a whole new way of operating for many congregations. As described in a Shelterforce article by Dee Walsh, “The money they invested was what they would rely on to care for their sustenance and retirement. It was a big, risky step, but they embraced the challenge and have done amazingly well, with no regrets, few losses, and a tremendous amount of positive change along the way.”

These religious loans showed a tremendous amount of trust and commitment to the causes they were supporting, and they had an incredible impact. In addition to the substantial amount of loans and direct investments they have given to organizations, Women Religious strongly influenced the growth of the Community Development Financial Institutions. In fact many of the CDFIs today got their start from congregations of Women Religious.

One of the earliest examples of this investing came from the Adrian Dominican Sisters. They had become increasingly aware of redlining practices and in 1978 established an alternative investment loan fund.  The loans allowed the Sisters to develop stronger relationships with the organizations as opposed to giving grants.  St. Ambrose is just one of the recipients of the over 500 loans distributed by the Adrian Dominican Sisters.

Other religious lenders who have supported St. Ambrose include Sisters of Notre Dame, Sisters of St. Francis, Sisters of Charity, Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and several others. Their funds have made a significant impact on our ability to work in Baltimore.

For more on Women Religious and their innovative funding methods, check out the Shelterforce article!

Nun Funds: The Original Impact Investors

Advocating for Host Homes: Mulatto’s Story

Mulatto’s host home journey started early last year. He spent several months living in different homeless shelters in Baltimore city before coming to the YES Drop-In Center for their Rapid Rehousing Program. While waiting for his housing, Mulatto is eagerly anticipating the start of St. Ambrose’s Host Home Program.

The Host Home Program helps connect youth with safe and stable homes until they can find permanent housing. In his story Mulatto tells us what the opportunity to find a host home would mean to him.

If you are interested in being a Host for a youth experiencing homelessness, contact Renee Stainrod at renees@stambros.org or calling 410) 366-6180 ext. 233. Our next host home trainings are February 17th and March 17th.

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

Lisa Evans: A WICD Story

Lisa Evans was born and raised in Baltimore. After working in D.C. for a while she found an interest in community development work. Baltimore, her home, had been working on a lot of innovative projects and had some excited programs, so she figured, why not go home?

Currently Evans serves as the Executive Director of One House At A Time, but in her career she has held several positions working on the local and state level, including Deputy Director at St. Ambrose right in the middle of the foreclosure crisis.  She shared with us some of her insights as a Woman in Community Development (WICD):

“When the foreclosure crisis hit, it hit in a huge way. We saw what lending did to communities and the strong, negative impact it could have.

All of a sudden community development became community stabilization.  Neighborhoods that were once improving or at least stable were on the downturn.  The focus became how do we make sure we didn’t see more vacants or blithe?  We would fix one house and 4 more vacants would appear.  Property values plummeted, dropping around 65% in value.

But now neighborhoods are improving.  Barclay area is a great example. 10 years ago, vacant lots made it almost impossible for developers to rent properties in that neighborhood. And how did it turn around? Community development is about coming in and doing work that creates that change.

The question we have to ask is how do we target our community development.  We would like to fix it all, but with limited resources we just can’t.  It’s interesting in Baltimore because it’s a city that 3 blocks one way or 3 blocks another way is a completely different world. It’s hard to decide which way to go. In community development we say, ‘build from strength.’ So you want to build in those spots that are doing well, but you want to help these other neighborhoods that aren’t doing as well.  It can be hard to figure out where to target. Very little in this field is cut and dry. You see everyone doing good, and you wish you could do more. But it’s a lot of chipping away, not mammoth steps.”

Ways to Give

Nothing fills us with warmth and holiday spirit like giving back to our community. You can help St. Ambrose support families working to give their children the secure foundation of a home to build a bright future.  We would not be able to do our work without your help.

Online donations are a classic and valuable way to give.  Or if you looking for ways to get creative with your contributions, here are few other ways you can support St. Ambrose.


5. Follow us on Facebook and TwItter

Retweet and share to show you care.

4. Shop Amazon Smile

Giving to St. Ambrose is as easy as shopping online!

3. Employer Gift Matching

See if your company offers an employee gift matching program, and multiply your donations.

2. Peer-to-Peer Fundraising

Be a St. Ambrose cheerleader and encourage friends and family to give their support.

1. Share your St. Ambrose story

Tell us how you heard about St. Ambrose, how you got involved, and why you care. You can submit your story in the comment section below.