A resident of Silver Spring, Md., Toni-Ann Wiggan is eager to shorten her commute to the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM), where she works as a research technician.
Because she’s looking to buy a house in Baltimore, Wiggan attended the Spring 2019 Live Baltimore Trolley Tour, hosted by the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB), on May 11 at the Southern Management Corporation Campus Center. Aboard white coach buses, participants were able to check out city neighborhoods, including areas that qualify for UMB’s Live Near Your Work (LNYW) Program, a homebuying assistance benefit for University employees that offers money toward the down payment and closing costs of homes in select Southwest Baltimore neighborhoods, including the purchase of a home requiring major renovations.
“I wanted to learn more about Live Near Your Work,” Wiggan said. “And I’m not familiar with the city, so this was a great way for me to check out different neighborhoods. It’s a great place to start.”
The University’s former LNYW outlay of $2,500 (plus $2,500 from the city) was rarely used, so UMB leaders committed $1.5 million to boost the grant. In addition, the initiative was transformed through community partnerships with Live Baltimore, the Southwest Partnership, and GO Northwest Housing Resource Center to offer homebuying workshops, financial counseling, neighborhood tours, a housing fair, and more.
Now the LNYW Program offers eligible employees a UMB grant of $16,000 — plus a matching grant of $2,500 from the city of Baltimore — to help with closing costs and down payments on houses in seven targeted Southwest Baltimore neighborhoods: Barre Circle, Franklin Square, Hollins Market, Mount Clare, Pigtown/Washington Village, Poppleton, and Union Square.
Since its launch in late January 2018, UMB’s improved LNYW Program has helped 24 University employees buy homes in the seven targeted neighborhoods, and five more home purchases are in the pipeline, according to Emily Winkler, Human Resources benefits manager and LNYW Program coordinator.
In addition to the bus tour, attendees got a chance to walk through a vendor fair, meet with real estate professionals and community organizations, and sit through expert-led workshops.
LNYW is one of the many ways in which UMB recognizes its collaboration with the community, said Aaron Litz, a Citizens of Pigtown (COP) board member and research coordinator at UMSOM. He and fellow COP member Raquel Zuniga handed out brochures to prospective buyers, extolling the benefits of their neighborhood.
“One of the ways we know how to build a strong community is through homeownership,” Litz said. When moving to Baltimore from Washington, D.C., Litz chose Pigtown because he wanted to walk to his job at UMSOM.
“There are so many people who are dedicated to strengthening Pigtown,” Litz said. “Pigtown is where we want to live, and so we all put in the work.”
“It’s the kind of place where people say hello on the way to the coffee shop,” added Zuniga.
Sonia Eaddy, president of the Poppleton Now Community Association, was happy to spend a Saturday morning talking to potential homebuyers about her neighborhood.
“Poppleton is a small community, but it has a lot of historic value. Right now, it is up and coming,” she said. “You might see a lot of vacant lots and vacant homes. That’s where the possibilities happen.”
Annie Milli, executive director of Live Baltimore, praised UMB’s efforts to assist employees in purchasing homes in the community.
“This has been one of the most fulfilling partnerships that we have ever been a part of with any anchor institution,” she said. “It’s a wonderful collaboration and a great way to show off the great things about UMB and its surrounding communities.”
Live Baltimore has been offering trolley tours for 21 years, Milli said. “You can see pictures online all you want, but there is just no substitute for getting out and seeing a neighborhood with your own eyes,” she said.
Like Wiggan, Susan Wieland, PhD, MPH, an associate professor at UMSOM, attended the event to learn more about the LNYW Program. She rents an apartment in Mount Vernon, which is not a LNYW neighborhood.
“I don’t know much about the city,” she said. “It’s a little intimidating. I’m glad I will get to see more of the city today. There’s a lot of neighborhoods I don’t know much about. I’d like to be able to walk to work.”
Ashley Crawford, an administrative assistant at UMSOM, said she likely won’t be ready to commit to buying a house until the fall but viewed the housing fair and neighborhood bus tour as a good way to begin her research on which neighborhood she may eventually settle. On the bus tour, Union Square caught her eye.
“I liked the clean streets, and the front stoops of people’s homes were meticulous. It looks like a well-kept neighborhood,” Crawford said, adding she is excited about the LNYW Program. “It brings people back to the city and boosts the economy, and that’s what we need now in Baltimore.”
The LNYW website has information on the program’s parameters, application process, targeted neighborhoods, and more.