UMB’s Live Near Your Work Program Hits Home As More Employees Buy Houses

The University of Maryland, Baltimore’s (UMB) Live Near Your Work Program received a cash infusion this year — $1.5 million to be exact — in an effort to get more employees to buy homes in seven neighborhoods that border the campus. University President Jay A. Perman, MD, said he expected the money to be a “game-changer” in spurring UMB employees to take the plunge into homeownership and help revitalize the Southwest Baltimore community. Perman’s prediction was on the mark.

In five short months, the game has changed in a major way — and more than a half-dozen UMB employees have used the University’s $16,000 subsidy, coupled with a $2,500 grant from the city of Baltimore, to help buy homes amid the seven targeted neighborhoods of Barre Circle, Franklin Square, Hollins Market, Mount Clare, Pigtown/Washington Village, Poppleton, and Union Square.

Even better, there is a steady stream of prospects in the home-purchasing pipeline.

“This is a great program, and it propelled me from thinking about purchasing a home to actually doing it,” said Vonetta Edwards, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Genome Sciences at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. She used the grant to move out of an apartment in Mount Vernon and buy a home in Hollins Market. “Especially for first-time homebuyers, the amount that covers both closing costs and the down payment is almost too good to leave on the table.”

Edwards joins C. Steven Douglas, MA, MLS, head of collection strategies and management at UMB’s Health Sciences and Human Services Library, and Robin Boston, a UMB disbursements accountant, as Hollins Market residents. Douglas, who had been renting in Hollins Market, used the grant to help buy a house in the neighborhood. “Its proximity to campus, downtown, and the harbor first attracted me,” he said. Boston, who moved from Reservoir Hill, near Druid Lake, said, “I take pride in owning my own home.”

That trio followed Shea Lawson, research project coordinator at the Brain and Tissue Bank at the School of Medicine. She was the first UMB employee to take advantage of the improved grant, buying a rowhouse in Pigtown this spring. The employees all touted the benefits of living near their workplace, with Lawson happy to cut down on her commute from Charles Village and Edwards pleased to continue without car expenses.

To ease and demystify the homebuying process, the program incorporates community partners such as Live Baltimore, the Southwest Partnership, and GO Northwest Housing Center to facilitate neighborhood tours, housing fairs, workshops, and counseling sessions. Homebuyers offered kudos to these partners and the city’s Homeownership Office.

All are working toward the goal of community revitalization by placing more UMB employees in the University’s surrounding neighborhoods.

“I hope that these grants will help many of our employees who are first-time homebuyers and I hope it will make a difference in the community,” Perman said in January. “It is a vibrant, shared community where there are multiple stakeholders. My dream is to see many of you walking to and from work and to see you out at local restaurants and local shops.”

Dawn Rhodes, MBA, the University’s chief business and finance officer and vice president, is thrilled with the program’s results nearly a half-year in. “We are very pleased with the progress of the improved Live Near Your Work [LNYW] Program,” she said. “It is helping very deserving individuals become homeowners.”

Emily Kordish, UMB benefits manager and coordinator of the LNYW Program, has been helping guide employees through the process. She’s equally thrilled.

“I’m extremely excited and honored to be a part of a program that has been making such a big impact in our employees’ lives,” Kordish said. “Employees have been contacting me not only to take advantage of this benefit, but to also take the steps so they can be ready to buy. This has truly been a rewarding experience."