A year ago, David K. Elam was moving into his new offices on the 15th floor of the Blaustein Building on North Charles Street. It was a weekend, and he had boxes of files in his car that he wanted to carry in.
So he told a maintenance worker he was a new tenant, working for Fannie Mae, and needed to park next to the building for a few minutes. "Fannie Mae?" asked the maintenance worker. "You work for Fannie Mae? Who's she?"
And therein lay Mr. Elam's challenge as the new director of
Fannie Mae's Baltimore Partnership Office. He works for a company with the funny name that has a massive behind-the-scenes role in the U.S. housing market as one of the largest purchasers of mortgage loans made by banks and savings and loans.
By purchasing pools of mortgages from lenders, Fannie Mae constantly replenishes the supply of money available for home loans. And Fannie Mae has a lot to say about the loans -- what down payments it wants to see, what kinds of credit history, what income loan applicants must earn to pass muster.
But because it does most of its business with lenders, and not directly with borrowers, Fannie Mae has traditionally had a low profile since its Depression-era creation.
However, that may change over the next few years -- in Baltimore and across the country -- as the Federal National Mortgage Association, as Fannie Mae is formally titled, rolls out its aggressive nationwide campaign to boost homeownership among low- and moderate-income households in beleaguered central cities.
"The Baltimore homeownership rate is in the high 40s," observed Mr. Elam. "The national average is around 63-64 percent. How do get our homeownership percentage rate up?" he asked.
One way to do it is to boost Fannie Mae's activity in serving minority and low- and moderate-income residents, and to educate lenders and real estate agents about the increasingly flexible Fannie Mae requirements. Mr. Elam said he has been encouraged by the early results, as he analyzes Baltimore mortgages purchased by Fannie Mae in his office's first year:
* The percentage of minority household mortgages has grown from 13 to 37 percent.
* The percentage of first-time homebuyer mortgages has grown from 20 to 48 percent.
* The percentage of low- and moderate-income household dTC mortgages more than doubled, from 33 to 67 percent.
The five-year goal of Fannie Mae's HouseBaltimore -- the name of its local initiative -- is to boost home loans and direct housing investment in the city with a $750 million program of mortgage purchases and other spending.
If it meets its goal, that would represent a $100 million increase in what Fannie Mae would normally do in Baltimore during a typical five-year span. In tangible terms, the program should help 10,000 families buy homes with Fannie Mae mortgages over five years. Nationally, the Fannie Mae commitment is to finance $1 trillion of affordable housing by the end of the decade. HouseBaltimore was the first to be announced, in April 1994, by Fannie Mae Chairman James Johnson. The local program has been joined by HouseOakland, HouseHartford, HouseSeattle, HouseMinnesota more than 20 Partnership Offices in all.
Mr. Elam joined the program in the fall of 1994 from the Housing Authority of Baltimore. The Virginia native, a 15-year resident of Baltimore, acknowledges that Fannie Mae's goals are ambitious in a city that has watched its population shrink by nearly 20 percent since 1970. Merely keeping Fannie Mae activity at current levels might be challenging enough.
"Yes, there is some outmigration. But with or without that, our goal should be to increase the number of homeowners. That's one clear goal and function of Fannie Mae," said Mr. Elam.
To that end, Mr. Elam's office has donated $100,000 in grants to the Baltimore Housing Roundtable -- an organization with nearly 30 members -- in an effort to expand the capacity of nonprofit housing counseling agencies. Another $50,000 will be given in 1996. He also worked with his former colleagues to help Baltimore develop and implement its city employee homeownership program, which has helped 140 families become homeowners.
The Fannie Mae Foundation also invested $75,000 in the Baltimore Business Homeownership Fund, created by the local Community Building Group to encourage businesses to help revitalize city neighborhoods.
Over the past three years, the BBHF has redeveloped 21 properties, including Ryan Station, a block of mostly vacant row homes in Washington Village.
Mr. Elam behaves less like a corporate emissary from the $31 billion, Washington, D.C.-based Fannie Mae, and more like someone who is comfortable with the real estate agents, builders, lenders, politicians and community organizations of Baltimore -- the players who will help shape the city's future.
His role at Fannie Mae allows him to continue the job that he began at the city's housing authority. In many ways, the agenda is the same. Mr. Elam's assistance to the BBHF is a case study.