25 Years, 25 Stories
As part of our 25th Anniversary Celebration, the New York Mortgage Coalition will be showcasing some of the myriad programs we fund as well as the clients who have benefited from these programs. Thanks to our many non-profit partners for sharing their successes with us. Follow the contact links in the stories to find out how you can become our next success story!
IMPACCT Brooklyn's Financial Capability Program: Daune Harrison-Iqbal
No two days are alike for Daune Harrison-Iqbal, who works in financial capability outreach and education for different and underserved populations for IMPACCT Brooklyn.
Daune began her career in the medical field, but when the hospital she was working at declared bankruptcy, she instead got her real estate license. After realizing that being a real estate agent wasn’t for her, she started working in nonprofits in 1998 doing pre-purchase counseling for homebuyers. With her license and real estate knowledge, it was the perfect fit.
Five years ago, she joined IMPACCT Brooklyn, a nonprofit committed to affordable housing, tenant rights, small business, and homeownership. When a colleague who had been handling the financial education program left, Daune asked if she could handle those duties. For the last two years she has been focused on financial education and hasn’t looked back since.
“I love talking about money, budgeting, and finances,” she explains.
Daune firmly believes that learning how to manage her finances was life-changing and she now uses her own experience to help others. When she took the job, she began to heed her own advice and pay closer attention to her finances.
In four years, she has gone from having no savings to having three different savings accounts –in addition to her retirement account. Her credit score has improved dramatically--from 480 to 750.
“It has changed many life tremendously,” she explains. “I tell people you have to focus and put in the energy. Don’t think it’s going to happen overnight. But once you start seeing your money growing, it does something to you. It is addictive. It makes you think about how you spend your money.”
No matter what group Daune is speaking to---college students, those making the transition from public assistance to the workforce or first offenders trying to re-enter society—she emphasizes the importance of financial independence.
She has discovered another benefit of savings—the ability to travel the world. Understanding that sometimes the trip of a lifetime means you are still paying for it years later, Daune was careful to save the funds ahead of time so that she did not have any debt as a result of the trips.
“I budgeted a trip to Alaska and a trip to England the year before. I did my research and found out how much it cost and saved for a year. I waited until I had the funds and thoroughly enjoyed myself.”
Having savings also comes in handy for emergencies.
“Not long ago, the IRS notified me that I owed some money. Years ago, that would have been a disaster but now I had emergency money.”
Daune has seen first-hand that anyone can be a heartbeat away from financial disaster.
“I have come across many working people who are living in shelters. They cannot afford housing for any number of reasons--they may have had health issues, or gone through a divorce or the death of a loved one. No matter what their circumstance, they have one thing in common--they never thought they would be there.”
Daune reinforces to them that their circumstances are temporary: “This is just a moment in time. You just need to take that first step.”
Recently, Daune began working with a sorority at a local college. The young women—mostly seniors-- wanted to learn to better manage their finances. They discussed credit, how to get it, maintain it. Budgeting, and most of all, the importance of savings. They also had lots of questions for Daune about how to manage their student loans—both government programs and private loans--and managing credit card debt.
"When I spoke to the students at the Parsons School for Design, they told me they wished I had talked to them four years earlier. So now I am going to talk to students when they arrive as freshman to start them on the right track.”
Perhaps the most challenging group that Daune works with are formerly incarcerated youth.
“Their past experience has hardened them. They don’t want to be judged forever by their past mistakes but they are overwhelmed by the thought of starting over.”
Since they often have poor credit or no credit at all, Daune shows them how to access their credit report so they have an accurate picture of their financial status.
“They need their own money, so they need employment training or entry into the workforce. Often, they are under 25 years old and have a lot of years ahead of them.”
No matter who she is addressing, Daune tries to emphasize the positive and inspire her audience.
“Starting today, you have the chance for a fresh start and you can work your way toward being independent.”
It is clear that Daune gets tremendous satisfaction from her work.
“It is gratifying to do work I am passionate about. I love planting the seeds to help change someone’s life like mine was changed.”
Chhaya CDC's Homeownership Success: Narbada Chhetri
Narbada Chhetri thought homeownership was beyond her reach. A native of Nepal, she moved to Queens in 2006. For a decade, she lived in apartments, frustrated that her rent payments were not helping her build equity or create wealth.
As a single mom, she had a dream to leave her daughter something after her life was over. She also had several obstacles to homeownership including the high price and limited availability of affordable housing units, time constraints and her lack of proficiency in English.
She had obstacles, but she also had Chhaya.
Chhaya CDC was founded in 2000 to advocate for the housing needs of New York City’s South Asian community. Its mission is to work with New Yorkers of South Asian origin to advocate for and build economically stable, sustainable, and thriving communities.
Chhaya encouraged Narbada to attend a homebuyer informational meeting and once she connected with Yangchen Chadotsang, Housing Preservation Program Manager, she began by starting to systematically save money and cut her expenses.
“I had zero knowledge of the homebuying process but I received wonderful support from Yangchen,” said Narbada. “She explained every sentence, every word. She also gave me hope—telling me ‘You can do this!’”
For Narbada, the main challenge was to save money and to find time.
“I cannot find the words for how grateful I am to Chhaya for the help with the process and the grant. The $20,000 grant helped with my downpayment and closing costs. If not for that, I would not have been able to purchase the house.”
Yangchen takes her role as advocate for her clients very seriously. She refers to Narbada as “DiDi” which means “sister” in Nepali.
“She is amazing---she did such a great job. She has a professional background, so she was very well equipped for the process.”
Narbada is now happily settled in her Jackson Heights home.
“When I entered my new home, I truly felt like a success. I have sent lots of people to the Chhaya homebuyer program. I tell people all the time: ‘You can fulfill your dreams too. Everything is possible if you put your heart and soul into it! I am really grateful to Chhaya--otherwise I would not be a homeowner.”
Chhaya CDC's Homeownership Program: Yangchen Chadotsang & William Spisak
As Housing Preservation Program Manager at Chhaya, Yangchen Chadotsang has been with the agency for eight years and is well aware of how stressful the homebuying process can be. Chhaya CDC was founded in 2000 to advocate for the housing needs of New York City’s South Asian community.
Its mission is to work with New Yorkers of South Asian origin to advocate for and build economically stable, sustainable, and thriving communities.
“The homebuying process—especially in New York City—is incredibly complicated. I have had clients who are attorneys and professors and they find it confusing, so you can imagine what it is for someone who is new to the process, the country and who has language barriers.”
William Spisak, Director of Programs at Chhaya, believe that this is probably the most challenging time in history to become a homeowner in New York.
“The cost is prohibitively high and lots of low and moderate income families are working families, saving and doing everything right, but homeownership remains just out of reach. Sometimes all they need is a counseling, support, downpayment assistance understanding the process to help push them over that line.”
And he notes that there are other barriers as well.
“One thing we recognize is that it’s not necessarily a fair market. Low and moderate income families are competing with investors, speculators and cash buyers. The solution lies in being able to provide families and individuals with the support they need—to lenders, counseling agencies, resources they need can make a difference for homebuyers. We see folks come to homebuyer ed course and not come back for counseling. They come back a year later and are still in the same place in the process because it is tough to do it on your own.”
Yangchen has some good advice for those who would like to become homeowners:
“Be proactive, get all your financial information ready, and most importantly, attend a homebuyer class at a HUD-approved counseling agency. They have tools and resources and will walk you through the process and also tell you about all of the support available. Once you attend a homebuyer class, the journey begins, and you will have an action plan that fits your needs.”
There are tangible benefits to enrolling in the program.
“Right now, the downpayment assistance can be as high as $60,000 for a first time homebuyer. For a low or moderate income buyer, saving that amount of money would take years so this makes a huge difference.”
Will believes that being part of the New York Mortgage Coalition has been critical to Chhaya’s success.
“Chhaya is a small community based organization that serves a unique population. As such, the majority of our emphasis and energy and focus has to be on our community members, so it is hard for us to leverage the important funding relationships, technical assistance and knowledge on our own. Our relationship with other partners through the NYMC is a very efficient and effective way for us to connect to the organizations we need to do our work.”
“For 18 years, we have not had any fees for our services, so it is critical for us to have funding from NYMC to serve our clients. They provide a platform where we can have open dialogue with our lenders who are financing first time homebuyers and to talk to them about what our community is facing. Our collective voice holds more weight with the lenders.”
Over the last few years, housing agencies have also unfortunately seen an increase in discrimination in housing and NYMC is taking action to help the groups tackle the issue with a larger, stronger voice. NYMC also supports the agencies with ongoing counselor development, providing wonderful training and resources that keep us up to date and allow us to better serve the community.
“Without NYMC we would definitely be less effective.”
LaSonya Thompson: HCCI's Lending Circles Program Success Story
LaSonya Thompson is a force of nature.
An effusive, vibrant attorney who works in the compliance and antitrust space, she had several goals when she heard about the Lending Circle program at Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement (HCCI), funded by the New York Mortgage Coalition.
LaSonya, an active member of HCCI member Riverside Church in Morningside Heights, wanted to begin laying the groundwork for becoming a homeowner by eliminating her student debt.
As a member of the creative class, she also wanted the freedom to pursue her artistic and entrepreneurial interest. She is currently launching the InterFaith Film and Music Festival to be held Nov 29-Dec 2 http://interfaithfilmfest.com/. She also wanted to make sure that she had funds to participate in mission trips with Habitat for Humanity to needy parts of the world.
“Service helps me stay grounded and grateful for everything I have,” she explains. “I meet great people and spend time away from the grind of the New York City rat race. When you go somewhere where people do not have basic food, clothing or shelter, you appreciate it more.”
LaSonya’s Lending Circle was a little shorter than a full year and included nine people—working, semi-retired, families. Everyone had different situations but all were jumpstarting their savings.
Although homeownership was what brought LaSonya to the lending circles, through her participation she realized she had more work to do.
“The prices are cost prohibitive. You absolutely need the right fit, the right neighborhood, enough room—and to have enough for maintenance and upkeep so you are prepared for a rainy day.”
So now, she is preparing to get a home by getting her financial house in order.
“In addition to cutting expenses, the circle also made me look at my streams of income and I took some online courses that introduced me to stocks and bonds to increase my revenue. The Lending Circle helps you get in the right type of savings mindset no matter what your situation.”
She has recommended the program to friends, but understands that it is not for everyone. In her case, she is also looking to the future. Although she does not have children she is interested in wealth building in order to create a legacy so that she can assist her extended family.
“I feel like with the Lending Circle that I am recycling my savings account. I am giving the savings into my own bank, I am empowering someone else to achieve their goals at the same time I am achieving mine.”
LaSonya thinks the program has great potential—maybe in Microlending for business or for those in the gig economy as some of the bank and even non-bank lenders still have very tough requirements re APR and credit scores.
And although you must be 18 to join the Lending Circle, LaSonya believes that someday it might be a great tool for kids.
“I love the idea of lending circles for young people who often don’t feel that sense of community—maybe with $5 or $10 but just to get them saving at an early age.”
The online educational courses on investing were attractive because they helped her explore stocks and options as a means to diversify her income sources and enjoy new ventures like her festival.
“Hopefully someday it will be profitable but this first year it is about seeing what potential the event has, meeting prospective investors, and figuring out future plans.”
She sums up her experience with Lending Circles this way: “My experience was life changing because I was excited about getting my credit score up. The Lending Circle served as my accountability partner to stay focused on eliminating student loan debt. I was in good company meeting other individuals who were serious about legacy building and wealth creation. I highly recommend this program!”
HCCI's Lending Circles Program
Rev. Dr. Charles Butler, VP of Equitable Development at Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement, started doing Lending Circles there in 2016. As of November, he will have had 200 people go through the program.
Many people are familiar with sou-sous--a savings arrangement where a group of people each pool an equal amount of money for a period of time and after that time is up, one person in the group gets all that money. They keep doing this till everyone gets their turn and receives that full lump sum at least once. Sou-sous are usually informal, with no reporting to credit bureaus.
“Our program reports the successful payback of the loan to all three credit bureaus,” explains Rev. Butler. “This allows the participant to not only create savings but to raise his or her credit score. That’s a huge appeal—that’s the carrot that attracts a lot of people.”
Rev. Butler originally started the program to assist prospective homebuyers who had issues with savings and credit. But he soon realized that the circles had an appeal beyond that audience.
“The New York Mortgage Coalition has provided financial support to HCCI's Lending Circles as part of our financial capacity building series which includes budget and credit individual and group counseling. Some people come in thinking they are ready to start the homebuying process but do not realize they need more work—once they understand how much money is required. Even if they are not ready to buy a home after the club, the payoff is the credit card/line of credit for installment loan. They now have better credit, a nice amount of savings and have established good habits to allow them to save even more.”
“Anything that can help you save money is great because it is tough. With most people, one paycheck goes to rent and the other paycheck goes to everything else.”
The $100 group used to be the most popular but Rev. Butler says that now many people want to be more aggressive and save $200 a month. ($2400 is the maximum annual amount--$200 group and 12 members.)
“I tell people to be sure to think of their $200 per month as debt—even though it is savings,” he explains. “And this is not the be-all and end-all. This is just a start. It really needs to be supplemental to your other savings.”
Prior to joining, some Lending Circle members could not be approved for credit cards but after they improved their scores in the club, they qualify for credit cards so they can continue to build credit wisely. Often, their scores go up 50-70 points in one year—sometimes even more.
“People were raving about their credit scores. We had one woman who could not get any credit when she started and now has an American Express platinum card. She has sent 5 of her coworkers to the program.”
With those kind of results, it is not surprising that people from all five boroughs are flocking to HCCI for the Lending Circle. This circle may truly have no end.
How to Join the HCCI Lending Circle
What you need: your email address, valid photo ID, voided personal check or bank document showing their routing number and acct number, two months paystubs and two months bank statements. You must be at least 18 years of age and employed.
Decide how much you want to save—there are groups that save $50 a month, $100 and $200. There is never a waiting list—Rev. Butler starts a new circle whenever there are at least six people who want to save the same amount per month. There is a minimum of 6 and a maximum of 12 for each circle.