For over 18 years, we have quietly experimented with ways of providing affordable housing to first-wave immigrant families in LaGrange, GA, the town we called home for over a quarter-century. Yesterday was a milestone day towards that end.
Between 2002-2009, four immigrant families entered a cooperative housing arrangement with us. Together, they earned equity in the homes where they resided. Then in 2015, they requested we switch to a no-interest installment sale plan and apply the earned equity as a down payment. Yesterday, all four families signed the deeds to their homes. They’re officially first-time homeowners!
In 2002, Arturo and his late wife Norma were the first to join our housing experiment. A crisis created an opportunity when Norma was diagnosed with end-stage renal disease and placed on home-based dialysis without insurance or a chance for a transplant. The idea of providing affordable housing came from a well of empathy and love for Norma and her recently arrived family.
Yesterday was a bittersweet moment, a promise fulfilled in memory of Norma. Arturo not only signed the deed on his first home, but he also paid off the last amount owed alongside his new spouse. Carla is a longtime friend of ours and a young widow herself. Today Arturo, Carla, and her youngest son have a place of their own. Mourning turned into dancing yesterday.
Because of our faithfulness to one another and commitment to fairness and equity, the four families already have about 85% equity on average in their respective homes. This is a rare feat in America and nearly unheard of amongst first-wave immigrant families from Latin America. According to The Center for American Progress, the typical Latinx family has only 14.6 percent of the wealth of a typical white family. And that number is even lower for Latinx families where the adults are first-wave immigrants. These families are bucking the trend; we trust they will find equally creative ways to pass the gift forward.
Aside from wealth accumulation, other evidence that this equity-sharing arrangement has been fruitful includes family and neighborhood stability and child academic achievement.
The four families, on average, have each lived in their homes for nearly 13 years. According to Zillow, “the typical long-term renter… has lived in their rental home for an average of seven years.” These four families, now homeowners, have no plans of leaving their sweet homes anytime soon.
These families see their abode as a future inheritance for their children. However, their choice has already reaped a reward for even the youngest household members. Every child raised in these four homes has either completed high school on time or is on schedule. This year we will have our first female high school graduate from the housing collective. This young woman has been raised by a devoted single mom of two (photo above). The young woman plans to follow in the footsteps of her young predecessors and fellow housing members; she plans to attend college. Like the three other high school graduates who have preceded her, she will be the first in her family to pursue higher education.
When housing is rooted in justice and community rather than landlord profits, compounding interests, and unbridled capitalism, children, families, and neighborhoods flourish.