Low-income housing effort gets a boost


After all these years of helping low-income people find homes, Vincent Quayle finally feels as if he's getting some big-time help -- a million dollars worth.

Mr. Quayle, director of St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, recently received a $1 million grant from the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation. By far, it is the biggest grant the nonprofit organization has ever received.

"We were knocked off our feet," Mr. Quayle said. "This was so exciting for us. We really, just in the last nine months, went out to get support from the local people. This shows that people out there know who we are."

The award, in the form of an endowment, is being announced at a breakfast today with area business leaders at the Center Club to launch a three-year fund-raising effort for St. Ambrose.

Bernard Siegel, president of the foundation, said the philanthropy made the award because St. Ambrose's work was consistent with the aims Harry Weinberg set. "He wanted his foundation to help poor people, and that's something St. Ambrose does very well," Mr. Siegel said.

The award is a challenge grant, meaning St. Ambrose will have to match it with other private donations to receive the funds. But the agency already is three-quarters of the way to meeting that mark, having raised nearly $750,000.

"We have a lot of friends out there who were as happy as we were, who wanted to do something about it," Mr. Quayle said.

Contributors include area foundations and individuals.

He said the grant was awarded during a concerted effort to raise money in the face of uncertainty about government housing aid. He sought financial-planning advice from Mathias J. DeVito, chairman of the Rouse Co., who advised him to draft a plan to raise $1.8 million over three years to keep the agency afloat.

He hired a fund-raiser, Eileen Gillan, who put together a presentation with charts and pictures that illustrated the organization's good works over the years. Together, they gave their pitch to potential donors, including officials at the Weinberg Foundation, the city's second-largest philanthropy, which awarded $44.3 million in grants in 1993.

Mr. Quayle said the response has been surprising. He said he never fully appreciated how highly the city's movers and shakers regarded his organization.

"This is a nest egg for us," Ms. Gillan said. "This will assure long-term security for St. Ambrose and its programs."

Mr. Quayle said the matching grant will free him from fund-raising duties, allowing him to play to his strength: solving housing problems.

St. Ambrose began humbly when Mr. Quayle assembled a group of activists in 1968 to become rabble-rousers, protesting against banks that failed to provide mortgage loans in the city. They fought to house blacks and low-income residents who were being shut out of the market.

The group became St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center in 1972, with offices in the 300 block of E. 25th St.

Over the years, the nonprofit has blossomed into an operation that employs 45 people and has a $4.5 million annual budget.

The largest portion of its revenues comes from selling the homes it renovates.

St. Ambrose renovates vacant homes for low-income people and runs other programs that encourage homeownership.

It has struggled through the years with absentee landlords, who Mr. Quayle believes destroy the stability of neighborhoods.

He tries to compete with these investors to buy homes going onto the market, to preserve them for homeowners.

St. Ambrose also has helped more than 4,000 low- and moderate-income people buy their first home, renovated more than 600 vacant homes, insured houses for more than 25,000 families, helped 8,000 families facing foreclosure and established a legal services program to help homeowners victimized by home-improvement fraud.

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