JHU's Live Near Your Work program expands footprints, increases grants

Personal story: 4-stry RH, 2,100 sq ft, near JHU

Video: Len Turner and David Schmelick

Traffic crawling. Horns honking. The never-ending stop-and-go. Sounds like a typical daily commute for many working adults. Instead, consider the luxury of living just a few miles from your office, or so close you could walk.

Now imagine being given money to help pay for this new home.

Paulette Hynson can.

Hynson was raised in Baltimore and educated in East Baltimore, and has worked for Johns Hopkins for more than 40 years. She took early retirement in 2005 but, like many Hopkins employees, came back weeks later as a part-time employee. Hynson has held different positions in the School of Medicine's Human Resources Department and is currently working as an employment manager.

She'd always been the person discussing with eligible employees the benefits and programs available to them. Then a major life change made her consider taking advantage of a program herself.

"I was going through a divorce and saw this as an opportunity to start my life over," Hynson says.

Previously, Hynson had lived in Anne Arundel County and commuted to Baltimore three days a week. Now she'll reside less than a mile from her office, all thanks to the university's Live Near Your Work program.

Since 1997, Johns Hopkins has partnered with Baltimore City to offer Live Near Your Work grants that assist employees in managing the costs involved with purchasing a home.

Grants of different amounts are available to benefits-eligible employees who decide to move to designated neighborhoods in the Homewood and East Baltimore footprints [see sidebar, below]. Various neighborhoods are broken into "tiers," A through D, and are eligible for different grant amounts.

Hynson was awarded $36,000 as a result of settling on a property in the Tier A2 area that falls within the East Baltimore Development Inc. area located just north of the Johns Hopkins medical campus.

"The fact that I am getting a substantial amount of money that will help me have a reasonable mortgage payment is incredible to me," Hynson says. "A lot of women who go through divorce procedures don't have any resources. This is a new beginning for me."

Hynson says that despite working in HR, she had not given any thought to moving or taking advantage of the program herself until she went to an annual HR conference and discussed the possibilities with Sandy Jenkins, the LNYW program coordinator.

"I am the first stop before people get started in the process," Jenkins says. "I give them a map, see where they are thinking about buying, and make sure they are aware of the certain grant amounts for each neighborhood."

Jenkins says that she sees this program as a recruitment and retention tool for Hopkins. "It helps out a lot of employees who may have thought that owning a home was out of their reach," she says.

All Johns Hopkins employees who take advantage of LNYW must go through home ownership counseling in order to receive the grant. The counseling involves taking a course on home ownership, either online or in person through an agency. Jenkins works to connect applicants for the program to one of the many counseling agencies in the city.

"It involves meeting with a counselor one-on-one to discuss the person's readiness to buy, looking at their loan-to-debt ratio, pulling their credit score, and figuring out a comfortable mortgage amount," she says.

Another major part of the counseling includes making people aware of various other incentives, and what to look for when buying a home.

"People who use the program can layer multiple incentives together and can go into settlement with more funds than what Hopkins can offer alone," Jenkins says.

In Hynson's case, she will receive an additional $10,000 from the Vacants to Values program. This Baltimore City initiative was created to have city-owned houses that have been vacant for at least a year taken over and renovated so they can go back on the market.

The house that she selected had been totally renovated, Hynson says. It is a four-level, 2,100-square-foot row house on Chase Street in the Eager Park West community.

At press time, Hynson was getting ready to settle on her property and move right in. She says that she is excited to be coming back to her roots.

"I can't believe that I am actually returning to almost the same location that I was reared in," Hynson says. "I was raised on McDonough Street, which is adjacent to the street that my new home is on."

Hynson says that the LNYW program is an extraordinary benefit.

"What perfect timing to take advantage and move my life to another level," she says of going through this process after her divorce. "I am starting my life over and am embracing it with an employer that I have been with for over 40 years."