3 nonprofit housing groups combine in one agency Move made to cut costs, avoid duplicating services

February 27, 1997|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,SUN STAFF

Three nonprofit groups working for affordable housing have merged into one statewide agency to preserve functions of all three and save $90,000 a year, it was announced yesterday.

Forming the Maryland Center for Community Development (MCCD) are the Baltimore Housing Roundtable (BHR), the Maryland Low Income Housing Information Service and the Maryland Alliance for Responsible Investment (MARI).

Taking steps to avoid duplication of services and to reduce overhead costs could be a lesson to others, some observers said.

"I think this is a worthwhile and exciting model for other nonprofits to investigate and perhaps emulate by consolidating," said M. Gregory Cantori, executive director of the Light Street Housing Corp. and BHR's former volunteer president. "It's the wave of the future."

The executive director of MCCD is Becky Sherblom, until December a staff member of the Washington-based National Association of Housing and Development Officials.

"All three groups had a little piece of housing, and some of the programs and memberships overlapped," Sherblom said. "By combining, we can expand their duties -- policy, training, education."

Two of the three agencies were statewide; BHR worked only in Baltimore. While MCCD will operate statewide, its officials are aware that many housing needs are in the city. The new agency, in BHR's former offices at 1714 St. Paul St., is an umbrella group that expects to have several hundred expected members from the three now-defunct groups.

Born in the 1980s to help low- and moderate-income people find better housing, the three groups had similar missions:

BHR was a coalition of housing groups providing specific help, such as loan packaging for people wanting to buy and rent homes, technical assistance, information and referral services.

The housing information service was a collection of organizations and individuals providing information and claiming to be

Maryland's "foremost advocacy voice for affordable housing."

MARI worked to persuade banks and financial institutions receiving deposits from low- and moderate-income people to reinvest in the communities through mortgage, small business and development loans.

Sherblom said that, if realized, the $90,000 in estimated savings, calculated in a Goldseker Foundation-funded survey, would be used to expand programs.

MCCD will have more staff than the three agencies -- eight people by spring, instead of five. But it expects to save money by having only one executive director and combining the costs of rent, utilities, equipment and fund-raising.

About 4,000 nonprofits with some paid staff operate in Maryland with the 501 (C)3 tax-exempt status of the Internal Revenue Service.

Consolidation might be an answer for some as a way to cut costs. "But even if some mergers don't happen, more and more nonprofits are collaborating to reduce costs and work for common goals," Sherblom said.

Some nonprofits said mergers would be counterproductive. Jeannie L. Howe, director of resource development for Baltimore Reads, said the umbrella group has increased the number of literacy providers in the city since 1988 from six to 34 with partial grants and different kinds of support.

The city's 200,000 illiterate residents are helped more effectively and more cheaply with various organizations that flexibly serve diverse neighborhoods and clienteles, such as dyslexic persons or prisoners, Howe said.

One reason nonprofit groups are reluctant to merge is turf; they don't want to yield their hard-won territories and reputations. But Cantori said staff of the three groups, feeling that the MCCD merger was in the best interests of people needing to rent and buy homes, overcame that and worked together in the past year.

Pub Date: 2/27/97

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