By James Wright
AFRO Staff Writer
Like hundreds of thousands of Washington area residents, Tiffanie Brown wanted to buy a home. However, she had problems with credit in the past and would have struggled to make a down payment.
After looking at a number of home-buying programs, she settled on the one that Operation Hope offered. As a result of her choice, she owns a condominium in downtown Silver Spring. She said she would not have done it without the help of Operation Hope.
"They helped me out a lot because they taught me what it means to own and take care of a home as well as provided needed financial assistance," said Brown, who is the president of her own financial services company. "The market in the D.C. area is changing and they helped me to make the right choice for a home. If it was not for Operation Hope, I would probably be living in a roach-infested apartment in Reston, Va."
"There is massive financial illiteracy in the Black community."
Operation Hope national chairman and chief executive officer John Bryant said that Brown's story has been the norm in its Anacostia, Washington, D.C., branch.
"When you are trying to buy a house, it helps to have someone on your side," Bryant said. "People who buy homes tend to make more money and have a greater stake in the community. Federal Reserve statistics show that 70 percent of the American people live paycheck to paycheck and the way to beat that is through financial literacy."
Operation Hope helped Brown connect with an E*Trade Financial representative out of Arlington, Va., and the three entities came up with what is known as a common sense package. The package was tailored to the needs of Brown, with the terms of negotiated by Operation Hope counselors and E*Trade Financial.
Bryant said that transactions such as Brown's have been a great success nationwide and that there have been no serious foreclosures.
"Before we accept people into this program, we make sure that they are financially able to handle a mortgage," he said. "We clear up any negative information before we present it to a bank. We take our participants through financial education and credit counseling.
"When we get through that process, we make sure that a bank loan is 'low hanging fruit.'"
On July 12, Bryant presented Brown and other successful participants to FDIC Chairwoman Sheila Bair. Bair visited the Southeast Washington facility to learn about Operation Hope and its programs.
Bryant is a leading advocate in a new phase of the civil rights movement called "silver rights." Bryant, along with former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young has said that the next step in civil rights is to "integrate the money."
"There is massive financial illiteracy in the Black community," Young said. "People should be focusing not so much on making more money but managing better the money that they have."
Bryant tells a story of three Detroit youth that he encountered recently. He said that the two of the youth wanted to buy expensive Nike shoes, but the other youth declined.
"The other boys teased the boy who did not want to buy the shoes," Bryant said, "so I asked him why. He told me he wanted to buy stock in Nike, and that he had sense enough to know that was more valuable than buying shoes.
"This young man had more financial sense than many adults I know."
In addition to the District, Operation Hope has offices in 25 cities in California, Oregon, Colorado, Louisiana, Mississippi, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New York, Maryland and Georgia. In June, it launched its international arm in Johannesburg to focus on teaching financial literacy to African youth.
Bair praised Operation Hope and encouraged its efforts.
"We have made financial literacy a high priority," she said. "We have sent out advisories to banks to become more customer-friendly so that people will not have to rely on payday lending institutions, which charge ridiculous interest rates. We are also asking banks to be careful about their sub-prime mortgage lending to make sure that they are complying with the law."
Bair said that the keys to financial security are paying bills on time and saving money on a consistent basis.
Bryant said that the average Black family's worth is $8,700 while the White family's is $88,000.
"That is a lot of ground to make up for Blacks, but with the economic empowerment through homeownership, it can be done," he said.