St. Ambrose's Housing Mission

June 07, 1993

Everyone in Baltimore is buying a home, Vincent Quayle believes. Some people are buying a home for themselves, others are helping their landlord buy more homes.

Twenty-five years ago, using an organizational model he had discovered while visiting London, Mr. Quayle started the St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center to help Baltimoreans of modest incomes become homeowners. When that non-profit center celebrated its birthday recently with a tour of homes being renovated in Harwood, the stamp of St. Ambrose was easy to see on that neighborhood above 25th Street, just east of Charles Village.

Take the 400 block of Lorraine Avenue, for example. Two decades ago, 28 of its 40 rowhouses were owned by absentee landlords. St. Ambrose helped 22 of the tenants to buy houses, bringing stability to the area.

An estimated 60,000 Baltimoreans have contacted St. Ambrose over the past 25 years. From a modest start, the center has grown into one of the biggest non-profit housing organizations in the nation, employing a staff of 40.

While the center has matched hundreds of families with houses they can afford, it estimates that only seven of every 100 families interviewed qualify for financing. Through counseling, St. Ambrose prepares would-be buyers for homeownership. It is a reflection of the current hard times that one of the center's busiest programs these days deals with families in danger of defaulting on their loans.

After a quarter-century of operating without any emphasis on specific neighborhoods, St. Ambrose now finds itself at a crossroads. Should it continue to operate on a citywide basis?

Or should it develop new strategies for rescuing designated neighborhoods?

The dilemma is a difficult one. The pioneering St. Ambrose no longer is the only non-profit organization here promoting homeownership for people of modest incomes. The non-profit housing sector in Baltimore City has been growing by leaps and bounds. Many organizations doing rehabilitation or building brand-new houses specialize in a given neighborhood. At the same time, new strategies beg to be tested. Among them is "prevention buying" to keep a neighborhood from becoming a target for speculation.

St. Ambrose has been an important factor on the Baltimore housing scene. It has moved from confrontation to cooperation, but the group is as needed today as it was 25 years ago.

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