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Baltimore wins piece of $10M Fannie Mae award to create temporary housing network model for homeless students

Baltimore’s housing department and a local education consulting firm have won a portion of a $10 million award from Fannie Mae to determine whether a network of temporary housing located near schools and coupled with social services can improve educational outcomes for young children experiencing homelessness.

Designed for families with students enrolled in prekindergarten through third grade, the model the consulting firm will design and develop could be turned into a pilot program and eventually scaled throughout the city.

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The city’s Department of Housing and Community Development and its partner, UPD Consulting, won $225,000 from Fannie Mae’s Sustainable Innovation Challenge initiative, which solicited ideas to combat the country’s affordable-housing crisis. The contract was one of about a dozen awarded to entrants of the challenge, which received hundreds of applications, the housing department announced Wednesday.

UPD Consulting, a Baltimore firm founded and led by Douglass Austin, previously chief of staff for Baltimore City Public Schools and deputy commissioner for development for the city housing department, believes that by providing stable housing for students close to schools it will reduce the likelihood that a child’s educational routine will be tampered with in the middle of the year.

Austin said the money from Fannie Mae will allow him and his team to comb through large quantities of data about students, neighborhoods and learning outcomes starting this month. He said it’s too early to determine where a housing network would be located in the city or how many families it could serve, but future funding and interest from developers would also play a role.

“Everything is on the table,” he said, adding that the project will take into account the city’s inventory of vacant homes and which schools best service low-income students. “Once we get our arms around the problem and layer on the feasibility factors, we’ll have a sense of how many families this could service.”

Studies show that children experiencing homelessness and long-term poverty are more likely to experience academic difficulties than their peers who live in more affluent and stable environments. Nearly 20% of Baltimore’s population lives in a state of poverty, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, and less than half of city residents own homes.

Michael Braverman, the housing department’s commissioner, said in a news release that the Fannie Mae award will help end the disruption in childhood development caused by housing insecurity.

“Housing stability is inextricably tied to school attendance and educational outcomes,” Braverman said. “The Fannie Mae contract award provides us with resources to research and develop a workable and sustainable model to help address housing instability and its impact on academic success.”

Austin said he believes Fannie Mae selected this proposal due to the strength of the partnership between his firm and the housing department — one that will allow UPD Consulting to focus on the research and development of the project and the city to take the lead on identifying potential houses, neighborhoods and developers.

Baltimore City Schools, meanwhile, will assist in identifying families in need of housing intervention. In a statement, schools CEO Sonja Santelises said the partnership will help level the playing field for the city’s most at-risk families.

“When families live in stable and affordable homes, they have greater opportunities to prosper in other aspects of life, including education and economic advancement,” Santelises said.

Early childhood literacy ranks among one of the opportunities available to students who have access to safe and long-term living conditions, Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said. In a statement, he thanked Fannie Mae for selecting Baltimore as a recipient.

“While we continue to work on the long-term housing needs of all our residents, through this model we want to break the cycle of school disruptions for children who may be facing homelessness,” he said.

Fannie Mae, one of the country’s leading mortgage loan companies, works to increase the number of lenders in the housing market for low- and moderate-income borrowers by purchasing mortgages on the secondary market. The government-sponsored enterprise serves a major role in facilitating homeownership.

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