The University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) will offer employees a huge incentive to purchase a home in one of seven nearby West Baltimore neighborhoods under an improved Live Near Your Work Program introduced Jan. 9 by President Jay A. Perman, MD. The incentive — along with a matching grant from the city of Baltimore — is expected help revitalize the communities that are neighbors to the university.
UMB employees are being offered $18,500 — $16,000 from the University and $2,500 from the city — to buy a home in Barre Circle, Franklin Square, Hollins Market, Mount Clare, Poppleton, Union Square, or Washington Village/Pigtown (see map of LNYW neighborhoods).
“We think this is a game-changer,” Perman told a group of more than 75 state and city officials, University leaders, community members, and media at the event launch held at the University of Maryland BioPark. “The program was grounded in the fact that it’s infinitely easier to build a community of strength, a community of mutual respect, a community shaped by a shared destiny when we work together and socialize together and yes, live together.”
Mayor Catherine Pugh attended the event and praised Perman, UMB, and the partners that have made the program possible.
“It is efforts like this, Dr. Perman, that I believe will make the difference in the growth and expansion of our city,” Pugh said. “You have taken up the mantle to bring about the difference that this city needs, and what is so great about the University of Maryland coming across Martin Luther King Boulevard is their investment in this community.”
UMB has had a Live Near Your Work incentive in the past, but at just $2,500, it had very few takers, Perman said. The new benefit is available to full- and part-time employees and now requires they live in the house for at least five years.
“Community revitalization is key to our mission,” said Dawn M. Rhodes, MBA, chief business and finance officer and vice president. “While showing our commitment to the community, we are providing our employees with an outstanding opportunity that benefits both our neighbors and our employees.”
“We would truly not be here today without the collaboration of our community partners,” Rhodes said. “There was a great deal to learn and execute. We needed the expertise of other organizations to ensure that our employees have a great homebuying experience.”
According to Rhodes, the Housing Authority of Baltimore City has already, confidentially, identified nearly 40 UMB employees in Section 8 housing and reached out to them about the LNYW Program. GO Northwest will be offering homeownership workshops and counseling services on campus, and Southwest Partnership has planned a housing fair at the BioPark in March with real estate agents and developers showcasing as many as 50 homes in the area to UMB employees.
“We are at a moment in time for these seven neighborhoods where there is finally a strong belief system that the diversity, the excitement, the creativity that already exists is going to be acknowledged by all of the larger partners that we have,” said Michael Seipp, executive director of the Southwest Partnership. “There is more to this than just buying a house. You are buying into a community of spirit and energy that doesn’t exist in many of our suburban neighborhoods.”
Also present at the launch was Carol Anne Gilbert, assistant secretary of the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, who pointed out the potential to stack other grants along with the University and city incentives. The state offers the Maryland Mortgage Program, tax credits, and other grants, and other opportunities exist through Vacants to Value, House Keys 4 Employees, and Live Baltimore.
“The grand-prize winner can get well over $30,000 with all those stackable incentives. … That should help a little bit,” Gilbert said. “We wrap all these incentives into a homebuying experience which is really a community buying experience. You are buying a house but really buying into a great community.”
There has already been interest in the program, which will be introduced to employees Jan. 11. Ebony Nicholson, MSW, academic coordinator for diversity and inclusion initiatives at UMB’s Campus Life Services, rents a home in Hollins Market and hopes to take advantage of the LNYW Program.
“I am looking to buy a home in [Hollins Market,]” she said. “I’m really invested in my neighborhood association. … It’s an opportunity to have fun and really be close to work and lower my carbon footprint.”
Ashley Valis, MSW, executive director of the Office of Community Engagement, bought a home in Hollins Market last year using the previous Live Near Your Work incentive. She and her husband found the size of home they were looking for in Southwest Baltimore at a much better value than in one of the pricier downtown neighborhoods, she said.
“We have a beautiful, historic home that we can afford, and we didn’t have to give up walking to the Inner Harbor or to work,” explained the mother of two young children. “Eliminating a work commute was definitely part of why we decided to buy in the Hollins Market area. If I have to work full time, I want to be away from the house as little as possible.”
Valis said that the neighborhood is improving and that is good for the community as well as the University.
“The fact that our Live Near Your Work Program is targeting all income levels for the University is really important to note, because we want all of our employees to have homeownership on their resume, and now, through this program, homeownership will be in the reach of all UMB employees,” she said. “No matter how much you earn, the more homeowners you can have on your block … that is really an added value to the community at large, not just to us as UMB employees.”
At a Jan. 11 event held for UMB employees at the Southern Management Corporation Campus Center, potential buyers heard more details about the program and had a chance to ask questions of Rhodes, Valis, UMB Benefits Manager Emily Kordish, and representatives of community partner organizations.
Most questions centered on personal credit requirements and eligibility. "I own a home already," one woman said, expressing her concern that the program might be restricted to first-time homebuyers.
"You do not have to be a first-time homebuyer, nor is the program income-restricted," answered Liz Koontz, employer outreach manager at Live Baltimore. "The requirement is that after you purchase this home, this home is your primary residence for five years."
"What if you don't have good credit?" asked a man near the back of the Elm Ballroom.
"Our Launch Your Life Program offers financial wellness 'Lunch and Learns' here on campus, and you can sign up for that on the website," Kordish responded.
"Credit can be repaired," Rhodes added. "That's a big part of what GO Northwest will do, and they can give you tips in terms of how to repair your credit."
The LNYW application process will open Jan. 29. Eligible employees will be required to complete a homeownership counseling program, and the benefit will be taxed. For details on the program, visit http://www.umaryland.edu/live-near-your-work/.