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.


Wicked or just WICD?

We look forward to Halloween as a time to embrace the creepy and the spooky.  It’s a time to welcome the jack-o-lanterns, the black cats and the wicked witches, who hover above the city on broomsticks and haunt us with their resonating cackle.  But far better than wicked witches, there is another “wicked” group who roams the city year round.  Instead of bringing terror, they build and strengthen neighborhoods.  Instead of casting spells, they advocate for change. They are Women in Community Development, or as we call them WICD.

“Communities do better when they tap into women’s unique abilities for building capacity and resiliency,” says Dr. Paulette Meikle. “Women should be viewed as agents of change and advocates of success.” She argues that women bring a focus to quality of life issues, and can provide unique responses in the face of social injustices.

In Baltimore, we have an extensive list of women who have dedicated themselves to leading and supporting initiatives that address specific community issues. Among them are women like Ellen Janes, Executive Director of Central Baltimore Partnership. She has served at the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, and for the Neighborhood Design Center where she created innovative and community-based programs. Another strong member of this group is Odette Ramos. Now the Executive Director of the Community Development Network, she started Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance and was the founder and CEO of Strategic Management Consulting.  In her consulting position and currently as an advocate she has aided many grassroots organizations (including St. Ambrose) with their efforts to address housing, education and people with disabilities to name a few.

In an editorial for the Baltimore Sun, Ramos talks about the great need for community development. She explains,

“Many people work hard but can’t afford decent homes in their communities. Many of our friends, relatives and neighbors need a boost in preparing for or finding jobs. Families across the state need assistance in landing on their feet after a foreclosure. And many of our neighborhoods — urban, suburban and rural — need new energy and investments to spur private investments.”

Read the full article here to learn more about the impact of community development in local neighborhoods.

We can’t list all of the impactful women here today, but think about the women in your network and we bet you know someone who qualifies for WICD.  Be on the look out for our future conversations with more of the WICD group. And join us in celebrating these amazing women, because being WICD is far from being bad!


Baltimore’s Rising Water Bills

What would you do if you received this notice in the mail?  Evelyn Anderson is a 70 year old wife of a veteran.  She moved into her rowhouse on Ravenwood Avenue in 1975, and has called it home ever since.  But when her water bills began rising into the thousands and became too high to pay, her home of over 40 years was in danger of being lost to tax sale.

Evelyn came to St. Ambrose hoping for some way to save her home. The legal team was able to work with the Department of Public Works to secure assistance, and raise awareness of her plight.  Ultimately, St. Ambrose lawyers were able to save Evelyn nearly $3,000 and more importantly, her home.  This story struck a chord with readers and through their generosity, she was able to pay the bill and save her home.

The St. Ambrose legal team receives many calls from frightened homeowners like Evelyn who are unsure how they will manage such large water bills.  These billing issues impact everyone including organizations. But for low-income families or seniors on fixed incomes, who rely on careful budgeting to ensure they can afford basic necessities, a large, unexpected bill can strike panic. If they are unable to pay the bills, their house could go to tax sale.  St. Ambrose attorneys can help protect families from this kind of catastrophe with free or low-cost legal advice and representation.

Seeing the dire need for reform, St. Ambrose has joined the advocacy effort, working on task forces and partnering with organizations like the Food and Water Watch and Water for All Baltimore Coalition.  The system shouldn’t be so complicated and muddled that people feel they need legal representation just to talk about a water bill. “Citizens shouldn’t need a lawyer to dispute bills. The process should be clear enough for everyone to understand,” Charlotte Clarke, St. Ambrose attorney states. She wrote a great piece that explains in further detail the need to reform the billing system. You can read it read it here.

To read more about Evelyn’s story and St. Ambrose’s push for reform, check out the Baltimore Sun Article.


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.

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.

We DON’T Buy Houses

In 2006, frustrated with the yellow “WE BUY HOUSES” signs that were beginning to pop up around the city, St. Ambrose created counter ads and posters to advertise our foreclosure prevention counseling services. We placed these ads on public transportation and in the newspapers to let the community know that we were ready to help struggling homeowners fight to keep their homes.

As the foreclosure crisis took a hold of our city, St. Ambrose foreclosure prevention counselors began serving over 1,000 people a year. In 2007,  St. Ambrose served 1,031 families and individuals facing foreclosure and our follow up research 3 years later showed that 70% of households served were either still in their homes or were able to sell their home for more than they paid!