March 29, 2010

New grants create more homebuyers

Twenty months ago, Johns Hopkins launched a revamped and incentive-laden Live Near Your Work program that touted a lofty goal of distributing to employees nearly $5 million of home-buying grant money over the next four years.

Despite a depressed overall housing market and a white winter that kept people indoors, the program performance has been steady, with home sales transacting every month.

Since the relaunch, 108 grants have been given to employees to purchase houses in select Baltimore City neighborhoods. Fifty-six grants have been awarded this current fiscal year alone, and more sales are pending as the weather warms and home-buying season kicks into high gear.

Johns Hopkins originally launched its Live Near Your Work program in 1997 in collaboration with Baltimore City and the state of Maryland. Grants of up to $2,500 were provided to help with down payments and closing costs.

Under the revised program guidelines, greatly expanded grants were offered for home purchases made within two Baltimore City program areas that include the Homewood, Johns Hopkins@Eastern, Peabody, East Baltimore and Bayview campuses. Within these footprints, grant amounts vary according to the neighborhoods in which the homes are purchased. For example, purchases in a Homewood area that includes portions of the Harwood, Barclay and Greenmount West neighborhoods are eligible for $17,000 grants; for houses in the Remington and Better Waverly communities, as well as a section of Abell, $10,000 grants will be awarded. The minimum grant level is $2,500. Houses can be either new or existing.

The additional home-buying support was made possible by a $2.5 million grant from the Rouse Company Foundation. In accepting the Rouse grant, the Johns Hopkins Institutions agreed to provide a matching sum.

Michelle Carlstrom, senior director of the Office of Work, Life and Engagement, which administers Live Near Your Work, said that the modifications have had exactly the desired effect.

“Before we made the changes, the program was beginning to stagnate due to rising home costs. So we made it more attractive, giving greater financial incentives and making it more flexible in terms of options,” Carlstrom said. “Just after we launched is when the market and conditions changed. Significantly, credit was frozen. So we are very happy with these numbers, given all that. When you look at 56 grants awarded this year so far, that might not instantly seem like a lot, but historically we gave out, on average, around 20 in a full year. That is quite a difference.

Carlstrom noted that of those 56 grants, 28 were awarded for home sales near the Homewood campus and an equal number for sales near the East Baltimore campus, though not by design.

The program requires that recipients own and occupy the home for a five-year period, participate in home ownership counseling and contribute at least $1,000 toward the purchase, depending on the location.

LNYW administrators wanted to focus the home ownership incentives in a way that maximizes the positive impact on select neighborhoods.

Fifteen of this year’s grants fell in the $17,000 tier. Carlstrom said she is particularly pleased with sales in the Barclay and Greenmount West neighborhoods. Eight homes were sold in this area, which is located just southeast of Charles Village.

“That is exactly how we wanted the program to work—to go out from a historically strong neighborhood and keep moving out to make a difference in emerging neighborhoods where home sales were flat,” she said.

Carlstrom said that indicators are also promising in the area just north of the medical campus, the site of the East Baltimore Development Inc.’s $1.8 billion revitalization project. Since the relaunch, five homes have been sold in an area only partially built out.

“We have a lot of brand-new housing going in there. That area has the potential to outperform all others,” she said. “Right now, all the signs are positive.”

Darlene Foster, an Environmental Services staff member at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, purchased one of these new East Baltimore homes last April. Foster said she loves her new row house in the Preston Place development, a purchase made possible by a $17,000 grant.

“I am so happy that they had this program and money available,” she said. “I needed to move, and this allowed me to do so, and stay so close to work.”

Live Near Your Work is designed to help university and medical system employees become homeowners in Baltimore City and to live closer to a Johns Hopkins campus. Carlstrom said that the program allows employees to cut commuting costs, build home equity and contribute to the vibrancy of the city by strengthening neighborhoods and being in sync with the region’s “smart growth” strategy.

The program is open to most full-time, benefits-eligible employees of the Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Health System. Eligible employees at campuses in other cities, such as the Montgomery County Campus in Rockville, Md., and the School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C., also can participate if they wish to live in the targeted Baltimore City neighborhoods.

The Office of Work, Life and Engagement will host a live “Fast Facts” on the Live Near Your Work program site on Thursday, April 29. More information about this session can be found on the office’s home page,, in the News and Events section.

A Live Near Your Work Home Ownership Expo will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Monday, May 10, in the School of Medicine’s Turner Concourse. The event will feature nearly 40 vendors, including representatives from Home Depot, local real estate firms, community associations and others.

For more information about the program, including a detailed map of the Live Near Your Work boundaries, go to www or call 443-997-7000