By Aaron Levin
John Seeley moved into a tidy little row house on East 23rd Street just after the first of the year-with a little help from the city, the state and his employer, Johns Hopkins.
Participation in a special program called Live Near Your Work tipped the balance for Seeley, who is assistant to the director of the Child Health and Survival Fellows Program, part of the School of Public Health's Department of International Health, located in Henderson House on Mount Royal Avenue.
"I was thinking about moving downtown, but not near either campus," said Seeley, who had been living near Towson.
But with commuting time to his job eating up too much of his day, Seeley made his decision, and LNYW tipped the balance.
"All the costs at settlement were covered by the grant," Seeley says, "and I could have applied the money to the down payment or any other cost."
The decision to move near Homewood, he says, was a good one for him. He's cut down his commuting time, and he likes the "very quiet and peaceful neighborhood" around his two-story, turn-of-the-century house.
Sitting in the cozy living room with his dog, Woody, Seeley is surrounded by watercolor seascapes he painted in France. Dozens of little winged angel figurines sit at the edges of bookshelves and tables. Wood statues reminiscent of totem poles stand guard behind a sofa, a reminder that Seeley holds a degree in sculpture from the Maryland Institute, College of Art and, before he moved to Hopkins, taught art in the Baltimore City schools. The concrete backyard of his new house, he says, will be a perfect outdoor studio in warm weather.
Seeley is one of 20 Hopkins employees who have taken advantage of LNYW, a year-old pilot program through which university employees are eligible for a $3,000 cash grant if they buy a home in a targeted neighborhood near the Homewood, East Baltimore or Bayview campuses.
The program is funded by the state of Maryland under the Neighborhood Conservation and Smart Growth Initiatives. The state offers $1,000, a sum matched by both the city of Baltimore and the university; the employee also contributes $1,000. In addition, the purchaser must pledge to live in the house for at least three years.
Of 200 grants available within the city limits, 30 are set aside for Hopkins employees, says Janet Sanfilippo, assistant provost at the university. About 20 of those grants have been allocated so far. "We hope to give every one away," says Sanfilippo, "and we are working with the city and the state to obtain more if our employees need them."
The pilot version of the program will run until the end of June. All employees in good standing who receive regular full-time benefits are eligible.
The target areas are roughly within a mile of each campus. At Homewood, for instance, the boundaries are North Avenue, 40th/41st streets, the Jones Falls Expressway and Loch Raven Boulevard. Applicants must consult with one of five nonprofit housing counselors in the city (like the St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center or the Waverly Community Housing Program) to be sure they and their homes qualify.
The values of the program are many, says Sanfillipo. "We share the initial cash expenses, help contain sprawl and raise the city's tax base. Plus, it's been well received by the employees."
LNYW is administered at Hopkins by the WorkLife Programs office. Says Sanfilippo, "The office of WorkLife Programs has done a wonderful job of running the program and making a complex process as easy as possible for the employee."
John Seeley would have to agree.
The process of obtaining the grant went smoothly, he says. "I expected much more hardship and difficulty. What could the program offer? How could it work? I thought there would be hidden catches along the way, but I haven't found them. I filled out each form and went from one office to another, and everyone was ready to help."
Hopkins employees interested in more details about the Live Near Your Work Program can get information and forms from the WorkLife Programs Office in Human Resources, 617 North Wyman Park Building. Information also can be found on the Web at www.jhu.edu/~hr1/worklife/worklife.htm.