I own a few rental properties in the low-income neighborhood I live in. I also help immigrant families who can’t access traditional financing become homeowners. You might say we try to help low-income families find--what's a name for it--"Financial Peace". A thread:
We have a 3-bed house that rents for $600 to a retired, Latino couple. Haven't raised the rent in 10 years.The market says we could rent it for $1000/mo. No applause necessary. That itself feels greedy. Let's be real: someone else literally pays my mortgage, building my wealth.
We started purchasing some of these homes at a time when people even greedier than I crashed a housing market that sent a disproportionate number of Black and brown families packing. But we knew rentals weren't the way to build back their wealth.
So we started helping immigrant families purchase all the foreclosed homes and former rental properties on our street using investment $ from friends from church. What were the results?
1. My neighbors monthly payments were cut in half from their rent. 2. They work in construction trades so they immediately invested in remodeling unlike the absentee landlords before. 3. They started building wealth (est. $1.75 million for about a dozen families).
4. We could finally build community with our neighbors because they wouldn't be replaced by new tenants in 6-8 months.
We had learn that profit must be redefined, expanded and more encompassing. Wealth isn't what's in our savings account, but being a member of a community where everyone has enough and is as financially resilient as we are. Accept 7% profit when 50% is possible.
When Hebrew prophets talked about "financial peace" they talked about "Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid" Micah 4:4. No longer would they be tenants of another person’s field or another person’s house.
The prophets talked of that better future because while ostensibly religious people fasted, offered sacrifices, threw festivals, they took advantage of the poor. They didn't think religion had anything to do with their business deals--their loans, their tenant agreements.
They built stone mansions, vineyards, ivory-adorned beds and couches, partied (Amos 5&6). They might have looked something like this. Look familiar?
Anyway, God couldn't stand it. "Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!" Amos 5:23-24.
What was true for Israel is true for us today: If my "financial peace" depends upon the financial impoverishment of another, it's not Christ's peace.
For all the talk about personal responsibility that Ramsey and others use to demonize poor people, isn't it ironic that he claims to have no power to control rent because "the market displaced them"? How about we take personal responsibility for the greed that exploits others?
But this isn't about Ramsey or even "the rich". This is about me and anyone like me that has savings enough to have an investment property. Our temptation is of the rich fool to build bigger barns to store our surplus grains (Luke 12).
Wealth without work is our idol. We just use more benign terms like "passive income". I don't care about Ramsey. I care about you and me choosing not to hoard manna, but only gathering what is enough for our needs.
Ten years ago, I was a 32 year old white kid playing the landlord to a 60-year old Latino couple who worked just as hard and made just as smart decision as I did. In one week, my neighbors work harder and log in more hours than most people I know do in two.
The only difference between us is I had capital at a time when their world was crumbling underneath them. And capitalism works great for those of us who have capital. So we can choose whether the market determines whether rents are moral or we can choose some other framework.
As a Christian, I both believe and experience day to day that when we value others above ourselves, seek their interests along with ours, we will find a joy, a sense of belonging, rootedness, and yes financial peace, that is so much more valuable than whatever is in my 401k.
That wealth may not show up in my savings account, but I see it on my front porch every single day. As long as we continue to act as if our faith is separate from questions of justice, we will never know truly know Jesus.
So Dave--or anyone else--if you want to talk about how to find financial peace not just for yourself but for entire neighborhoods, give me a shout.
One more cool story about my amazing neighbor, Armando. Armando lived next door to me, but lost his house because of an ARM where after 7 years, he never made a dent in his principal. Moved to a trailer park for a couple of years, but wanted to move back in.
House across the street to me went into foreclosure. We watched the price drop and waited for it to drop more. We called our realtor only to find out someone just bought it. $18k.
My plan was to offer $5k more than they paid for it the first moment I saw them. Nice guy. He was from Iowa, went to my alma mader. Told him what we were trying to do. This was to be an investment property so he could send his kids to ISU too. Wasn't interested in selling.
But he would finance it to Armando. Cool, doesn't have to be me, whatever. A week later he gives me the terms. Over 15 years, Armando would make payments totaling $150k for the house he bought and did nothing for for $18k.
I wouldn't let that go unnoticed. What did I have to lose, offending another Iowan? I told him there's no way I'd accept this for myself, so I'd never let Armando do it. The guilt trip worked. He sold it to me for $3k over the sales price.
We got Armando back into the neighborhood. How long it took for Armando to pay off his house once he got into it on fair terms? 16 months. Yeah, months, not years.
It's popular to say that we shouldn't give low-income people a fish, we should teach them how to fish. Armando (and most working class people) already know how to fish. He knew how to save. He just didn't have the same pond to fish in as many of us do.
But time and time again, good "nice guys" who look just like me innocently purchase investment properties that make them rich, but never create wealth for the people who really need it. Let's create a world where everyone has their own vine and fig tree.

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