Housing provider cuts staff, services Decline in funding grips nonprofit center

March 20, 1996|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,SUN STAFF

The nationally recognized St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center is laying off a quarter of its staff of 45, ending a college graduates' program, and shrinking services to low-income Baltimore residents because funding has declined.

Some programs of the city's oldest nonprofit housing provider, such as renovating dilapidated houses, will be put on hold and others will be combined, according to Executive Director Vincent P. Quayle. Remaining resources will be used to buy houses in what he calls "better neighborhoods" such as Waverly, Bel Air-Edison and Garrison Boulevard, in a continuing effort to try to prevent their decline.

"Housing for low-income people is not a popular cause today," he said Friday. "Federal funding has gone down or been stagnant since 1980. Corporations, foundations, other private donors cut gifts they say it's too expensive and they don't see any progress.

"I still have great hope for St. Ambrose and for the city's neighborhoods. They are healthier than the media and general public are led to believe," he said. Since Mr. Quayle founded St. Ambrose in 1968, it has served, by its count, the needs of 60,000 low- and moderate-income families and drawn national notice as a housing pioneer.

"Like big companies, we've discovered downsizing," Mr. Quayle said. "Besides terminating or reducing 17 positions effective March 29, we've had to end the Jesuit and Lutheran Volunteer Corps program. That's like the Peace Corps, where three or four kids work for a year after college for stipends of $10,000."

Mr. Quayle said that because of tight economic conditions, nonprofits generally face a time of cuts, mergers and "the survival of the fittest."

St. Ambrose will cut its operating budget, which covers salaries and benefits, by 25 percent from $1.6 million this fiscal year to $1.2 million in the year starting July 1.

About 3,000 Baltimore families each year use services of St. Ambrose, at 321 E. 25th St.

Baltimore's homeownership rate is 49 percent, far below the national average of 65 percent. St. Ambrose has helped more than 4,000 people buy their first homes, generating $68 million in mortgages.

Robert C. Embry Jr., president of the Abell Foundation, said, "I don't think there's anybody or any organization that has had a more sustained and positive effect on the city than Vincent Quayle and St. Ambrose. Unfortunately, there's less and less attention being paid to areas teetering between the middle class and poverty. Homeownership is of such critical importance. St. Ambrose is a terrific organization."

Several full-time workers are going to part time. Workers being laid off include accountants, fund-raisers, housing counselors and real estate specialists. They were notified March 1 that they would work until March 29 and then get two weeks' pay and benefits.


Mr. Quayle described three strategies in "rethinking" St. Ambrose. One was to cut administration. Another was to combine counseling programs for legal services and default mortgages, while keeping those for homeownership and home sharing. The third was to continue to buy houses at auctions and estate sales in targeted neighborhoods.

St. Ambrose has put on hold buying and renovating vacant houses, rehabilitating houses in partnership with other nonprofits, and some collaborative activities with others in Northeast Baltimore, he said.

"Federal block grants are frozen and stagnant," Mr. Quayle said. "For instance, in 1980, we got a federal block grant of $150,000. Today, in 1996, that grant is the same amount. It hasn't increased over 15 years. Expenses have."

Mr. Quayle said "tons of money" is going to such distressed areas as Sandtown-Winchester and the empowerment zone "but not to the outer-ring neighborhoods we serve."

Less help

Corporate donations are down, he said.

"Maryland National Bank gave $60,000 a year for five years," he said. But then the Baltimore-based company was sold.

"NationsBank came in and cut it in half to $30,000 the first year and then altogether this year. That's $90,000 less over two years, the biggest single private cut. These things make a difference."

A Baltimore spokesman for NationsBank said the bank plans to help St. Ambrose again. "We look forward to working with St. Ambrose Housing in the delivery of affordable housing and to providing financial support in the future. The extent and the timing have yet to be decided and will be based on the needs of the organization."

NationsBank is giving locally in other ways, such as $3 million for the Port Discovery children's museum project downtown.

Mr. Quayle said, "Local foundations have been very good to us, but there's a limit to what they can do. We really appreciate the big $1 million Weinberg Foundation grant being matched but it's endowment only; we can use only the $50,000 interest it brings in."

St. Ambrose was named for a Baltimore Catholic church whose priest, the Rev. Ed Miller, helped the group at its start.

Pub Date: 3/20/96

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