University of Maryland expanding employee home-buying incentive program

The University of Maryland, Baltimore is pumping $1.5 million into a program that encourages employees to buy homes in neighborhoods surrounding the institution’s West Baltimore academic and medical campuses.

Through the university’s Live Near Your Work program, full- and part-time employees can qualify for up to $18,500 in assistance, including $2,500 from the city, to put toward a down payment and closing costs. The program previously awarded up to $5,000, split between the university and the city, but it was sparsely used and attracted only a handful of buyers.

The university hopes the more robust financial incentive will help up to 93 employees to buy homes in the area and enable the university to play a more significant role in revitalizing West Baltimore, said Dawn Rhodes, the university’s chief business and financial officer.

“When we started working on this, we said what is the most important thing we want to have happen,” Rhodes said. “We want community revitalization and stabilization, and home ownership is a major part of that.”

The program is open to buyers who plan to use the property as their primary residence for at least five years.

The program now will focus on seven neighborhoods: Barre Circle, Franklin Square, Hollins Market, Pigtown/Washington Village, Poppleton, Mount Clare and Union Square. It’s a slightly smaller area than in the past, which Rhodes said is intended to make sure the university’s investment makes a difference.

“We believe in order for this to be successful you have to create a critical mass in a certain area or you dilute the benefits of the program,” she said. “If we have enough money to help 93 employees become homeowners, we want to make sure it’s in a concentrated area.”

The prior $5,000 incentive already helped Ashley Valis, who works as executive director of community engagement for the university. She and her husband moved into a large five-bedroom home near Hollins Market to accommodate their growing family last January.

Valis’ husband works for the city, so they also qualified for $5,000 from a similar program for city employees. By participating in an event by Live Baltimore, which promotes home ownership, they earned another $5,000, for a total of $15,000 to put toward their down payment and closing costs.

She said she hopes more University of Maryland colleagues will take advantage of the program.

“I’m hoping that more of our employees give this part of the city a second look,” said Valis, 36.

As the university looks to make its pitch to more employees, it is working with Live Baltimore to bring homebuyer education on campus to talk about the process and other incentives.

“Baltimore is a first-time homebuyer market and there are a lot of barriers to first-time homeownership,” said Annie Milli, the executive director of Live Baltimore.

The increased financial incentive, paired with more accessible homebuyer education will, it is hoped, remove some of those barriers, Milli said.

Financial incentive programs, especially those spearheaded by major anchor institutions, have proven effective in driving homeownership in the city.

A similar program for Johns Hopkins University and Health System employees, for example, supported 171 settlements in fiscal 2017. The university invested just under $2 million and the city contributed $427,500 in matching funds, said Katie Walsh, who manages Hopkins’ Live Near York Work program.

The results included a special homebuying initiative in Eager Park, during which 42 homes were purchased in a one-day event.

Johns Hopkins University and Health System employees can qualify for between $5,000 and $17,000 to put toward buying a home in designated areas around the city, she said.

“It is absolutely vital that our anchor institutions support the communities around them,” Milli said. “I think this investment will be very meaningful for the west side of the city and I think it solidifies the University of Maryland as a major contributor to the city.”

sarah.gantz@baltsun.com

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