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Housing advocate off to new goals; David K. Elam spent five years promoting city homeownership

THE BALTIMORE SUN

David K. Elam sits at the round table in the dining area of a model townhouse that could be in any suburban subdivision. It has a new kitchen with modern appliances. The rooms are bright. The carpet fresh. The windows clean. The bedrooms have been decorated with a "Leave It to Beaver" mentality.

But this house is in a reclamation project called Riverfront in Cherry Hill, a tough Baltimore neighborhood.

It is a project at the core of what Elam does best.

"You've got to give the people what they want," he said. "You may not like it, but if that is what they want, that is what they want. They figure, 'If I can't live out there [in the suburbs], I still want to have it.'"

And for the past five years as director of Fannie Mae's Baltimore Partnership Office, Elam's mission has been to help stimulate housing and community development in the city.

In February, Fannie Mae, the federally chartered company that supplies mortgage money to lenders, promoted Elam, 45, to vice president for housing and community development in the Southeastern Regional office. Elam will be based in Atlanta and oversee an 11-state operation that includes Maryland. His replacement is expected to be named in mid-May.

The move made him one of the company's highest ranking officials to have come out of Baltimore, and he oversees a $70 billion pool of cash that he can use, in conjunction with nine Partnership offices, as a lifeblood to aid any number of residential or commercial projects.

One of the newest projects, announced Friday, was a $750,000 investment to St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center to help it purchase, rehab and resell derelict homes in the Waverly and Pen Lucy neighborhoods.

Before Fannie Mae, Elam's resume ran through a number of federal and city housing offices. He worked for the Baltimore office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, before working for the city's Market Center Development Corp. and becoming development director for the city Department of Housing and Community Development. As director, the department assisted in more than $300 million in development projects.

And when Fannie Mae decided five years ago to experiment in Baltimore by opening its first Partnership Office to bring the lender closer to the city's needs, Elam was a natural choice. Today, 44 Partnership Offices are across the country, and last May, Fannie Mae recommitted itself to Baltimore with a five-year, $4.2 billion pledge to fund residential and commercial projects.

"David is an aggressive guy," said Tom Jaudan, chief of the city's Homeownership Institute, who worked for Elam. "He is really good at pulling together people and making partnerships, especially being able to bring in lenders to help do our projects. He knows how to keep them happy. He knows who needs to be at the table and who to invite to the table."

Elam's fingerprint can be seen throughout Baltimore:

He helped organize a $20 million revolving line of credit to fund the Settlement Expense Loan Program, which shifted the financial burden responsibility from the city to Fannie Mae, giving homebuyers the opportunity to use a low-interest loan to help cover closing costs.

The American Can Co., where Fannie Mae made a $4 million equity investment in the Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse commercial renovation, helped revitalize the Canton waterfront.

In Bolton Hill, Fannie Mae invested $1 million in the Spicer's Run housing project, where minority developers have successfully sold nonsubsidized garage townhouses that border North Avenue.

Last year, Fannie Mae helped fund the series of Live Baltimore Marketing Center Trolley Tours to promote city homeownership through the use of $3,000 vouchers toward the purchase of a home.

Although his responsibility is to take the Baltimore experience and make it work elsewhere, Elam said his work in the city is not finished.

"I think the fact that I have come from Baltimore, having worked for the city, knowing the players, both in the new administration as well as players in the market, we can make stuff happen," he said. "Where I am now will be nothing but an asset. I think I will be a great value to the city. The fact that I am in Atlanta, it's nothing but a phone call, a fax, an e-mail away. I feel good about the position that I am in and being able to help make things happen in Baltimore."

But Elam knows that making affordable, attractive housing in Baltimore is not so easy, especially for low- and moderate-income African-Americans and other minorities.

Homeownership in the city, he said, hovers near 50 percent, while minority homeownership is about 30 percent. Nationally, homeownership is at an all-time high of 67 percent.

"We have the highest concentration of low-income and moderate-income folks in the state of Maryland in the city of Baltimore," he said.

"Part of it is how do we introduce opportunity? ... How do we ensure homeownership for them? My view is that once we start ensuring homeownership for African-Americans and other minorities, I think we will start seeing stabilization in communities. As one mayor said, he never -- in his city -- saw a homeowner do a drive-by shooting," he said.

"Homeowners typically are going to become that more responsible of a stakeholder in that community. If we increase minority homeownership in this metropolitan area, I think overall that will bode well for the entire region. I think you will see an improved quality of life overall."

Elam pointed to Fannie Mae's new 10-year, $2 trillion "American Dream" commitment to continue to open doors to homeownership. Although much of his energy has been spent in the city, in his new role, he is beginning to reach out to county executives, whose suburban housing stock is beginning to feel the effects of age.

His methodology is simple: "What are your needs? What are your issues? What are your priorities? And let's figure out where we can be an asset to you," Elam said, adding that his satisfaction comes from the people who benefit from his efforts.

"In the end, you always feel good," he said, "because you get down to the human side of it."

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