For the past three decades, an organization at 321 East 25th has quietly labored to give the poor, the elderly, and the minorities of Baltimore City a chance to do what many otherwise could only dream about: finding and purchasing their own permanent residence.
Now, as the new millennium draws closer, the St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center finds itself still playing a fundamental role in the expansion and maintenance of widely diverse neighborhoods.
Thirty years ago, former Jesuit Priest Vincent Vinnie P. Quayle came to Baltimore to fight for affordable housing for poor minorities in the city. At that time, local financial institutions were unwilling to give loans to those individuals. The rate of local home ownership was plummeting.
Mr. Quayle established St. Ambrose hoping to fulfill the mission statement, which still hangs in the lobby of the central office: to create, preserve, and maintain equal housing opportunities for low and moderate income people in Baltimore City, and to encourage and support strong and diverse neighborhoods.
He set up programs in blue collar areas and offered counseling on home purchasing, organized payment plans for families facing foreclosure, and developed many other programs offering legal services, renovation help, home sharing, and general financial counseling for individuals in need.
The organization has helped over 60,000 homeowners since its inception. One might assume that the process has gotten easier over the years. But, according to Mr. Quayle, this is far from the truth: When St. Ambrose was started, we thought that we could solve all the problems of these neighborhoods. But two problems arose that we just didn't account for initially: the growth of the drug trade, and the breakdown of families.
But without St. Ambrose, these problems would probably be far worse. Take the case of Eleanor James, a 76-year-old woman who once lived on a block with 12 other residents. Over the years, these 12 residents dwindled to just one, and Ms. James was forced to live alongside ten boarded-up, dilapidated homes. When St. Ambrose heard of her case, they bought and renovated every house on the block, and rented them out to low-income families.
Again and again, the organization has come to the aid of people like Ms. James. When I do need help, they come to my rescue, she says.
As neighborhoods become revitalized through St. Ambrose's programs, the focus then becomes maintenance of a stable economic environment to keep property values up, crime out, and residents happy.
More than ever, it is important for young individuals to invest in the city, says Mr. Quayle. Shop in these areas, live in the older neighborhoods, keep these places prosperous.
And where does he see the future taking St. Ambrose? We hope to experiment with new ideas, he answers. saving what can be saved, and implementing new and well-founded independent programs to continue to offer help to these areas.
For information about St. Ambroses programs, call 410-235-5770.
Tom Werthman, a senior at Gilman School, is a summer intern with this newspaper.