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Southeast Baltimore employers urged to help employees 'Live Near Your Work'


For 30 years, the University of Pennsylvania has guaranteed mortgages to employees who buy homes near the university in West Philadelphia.

Now, community leaders in Southeast Baltimore have begun a similar "Live Near Your Work" campaign to persuade local employers to offer financial incentives to workers who buy houses near their work.

The program, designed to increase homeownership and stabilize several struggling Southeast Baltimore neighborhoods, got its start with a conference Friday at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

Several East Baltimore employers -- including Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Johns Hopkins University -- heard a pitch from community leaders and government officials as well as from Diane-Louise Wormley, who runs the University of Pennsylvania program.

Ms. Wormley, an associate treasurer at Penn, said the school has guaranteed 1,300 mortgages totaling $14 million since 1965. Only two mortgages have defaulted, she said.

"It's very well received," she said of the program, which guarantees 105 percent of each mortgage and covers a down payment for employees. The program is open to all full-time employees, ranging from clerical staff to tenured professors.

Mr. Wormley said the Pennsylvania program has helped revitalize the community near the university and has even been used as a recruitment tool in faculty hiring.

In Baltimore, the Department of Housing and Community Development began an employee incentive program in October, offering $10,000 loans to city employees who buy houses in the city. The loans will be forgiven for workers who stay in their houses for 10 years, said Tom Jaudon, chief of the city's homeownership institute.

The city has made loans to 135 teachers, police officers, firefighters and public works employees, he said.

Friday's conference was organized by community leader Ed Rutkowski for the Southeast Planning Council, a coalition of community groups that proposed the "Live Near Your Work" idea more than a year ago.

Officials from the Johns Hopkins institutions said they were interested in beginning a "Live Near Your Work" program.

"We're aggressively trying to establish this program," said Michael Jenkins, the hospital's administrator for corporate and community services. He said the hospital has brought in real estate agents to talk to employees about opportunities to buy houses near the hospital.

Richard Grossi, senior associate dean for finance and administration at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said the homeowner incentive program would tie in nicely with the city's Empowerment Zone grant, which has $100 million in federal funds to revitalize parts of the city, including East Baltimore.

East Baltimore business and community leaders also are studying the possibility of opening a community development bank that would lend money to renovate houses and help small businesses.

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