Making City Housing Affordable

November 16, 1992

Non-profit development corporations have assumed a key role in creating affordable housing for low- and moderate-income home buyers. This was underscored last week when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded $2.6 million to seven local non-profit groups for the development of some 300 units of housing.

Among the organizations given grants were St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, the Baltimore Corporation for Housing Partnerships, People's Homesteading Corp. and Maryland Housing Research Corp. They are just a few of the groups representing an industry that has produced over 1,000 housing units in Baltimore City in the past three years.

The rise of the non-profit housing industry is a direct consequence of sweeping changes in federal policies that were implemented in the past 12 years. As Urban Development Action Grants (UDAGs) were eliminated and community development block grants cut back, fewer and fewer commercial builders wanted to deal with often problematic projects in the nation's inner cities.

"We are doing it because no one else is doing it. Specifically, the private people are not doing it," said Vincent Quayle of St. Ambrose's Housing Aid Center about the non-profits' increased role.

How dominant that role can be is best seen in the ambitious Nehemiah Project, which built close to 500 new and rehabilitated housing units for the Sandtown-Winchester and Penn-North areas of West Baltimore. Most of those units were constructed by a non-profit arm of the Enterprise Foundation, the brain child of James W. Rouse, developer of Baltimore's Harborplace, Columbia and many successful commercial properties.

"It's very time-consuming, it requires a lot of persistence," said Pat Massey of the Baltimore Corporation for Housing Partnerships about these deals. "You need to set up corporations that can operate quickly and creatively."

Like other non-profits, her organization is involved in many types of financing arrangements and develops housing for lease or sale to low- and moderate-income families. "We have a very mixed portfolio," she explains. "Not every single one of those product lines is profitable. But overall they cross-subsidize one another."

"We have a social mission, but a business agenda," is how one executive characterizes the whole non-profit housing industry. The groups offer qualified low- and moderate-income home buyers in Baltimore City rare opportunities. Many rehabilitated town houses with modern conveniences are selling for under $400 a month. That's the kind of housing incentive which would revitalize the city's home-ownership situation.

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