When we find a bank that will do the mortgages, we pay the interest so the bank still makes their money. We're able to put the homeowner in their home [with] an interest-free mortgage. … We're covering the gap by fundraising and corporate donations, sometimes personal donations.

What has the chapter's experience with foreclosure been?

Over the last 30 years, we've had about 2 percent foreclosed on. Of the 240 mortgages that are out there, between our own and the banks, we've foreclosed on two homes in the last two years, which is less than 1 percent. I think that's a good average.

What's keeping the number down compared with the country's high levels?

Besides the [financial] training we do [with families] … if somebody is a day late for making their mortgage payment, we've worked with the banks to say, "We'd like to know that." So our staff that works with the families calls, saying, "What's going on?"

Because of that, I think, we have a very high success rate of making sure they don't have problems with their loans.

What do you want to accomplish at Habitat?

One of the challenges is what to do in the counties, because land isn't as easily accessible in the counties [as it is in Baltimore]. But there's still a need for affordable housing there. So … [I want to get a] strategic plan in place.

I think the perception was that we're focusing on Baltimore City, and I want to change that perception. That's not what we're doing — we're focusing on our whole area, which includes Anne Arundel County and Baltimore County and Howard County. So some of my first meetings will be with county governments, county prospects for donors and things like that.

As you note, you're coming from the for-profit world to a nonprofit. What challenges do you foresee?

Asking for money is in some ways harder than trying to bid on a contract. So you have to go about it differently. You have to have a strong mission to ask for money and show them how you're spending the money.

It's been a rocky several years for the housing industry and for many charities. Is the chapter financially solid?

Yes. We've been very fortunate. … We've been able to manage through the [drop in] donations, and … vacant homes are cheaper. We can build a decent home that's affordable for the home buyer that others can't do in this economy.

jhopkins@baltsun.com

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