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Home Team Homeowners

In this line of work, there are moments that are magical and miraculous; moments that come to fruition as a result of months of planning and the contributions of many people in response to a long-underserved need. This weekend was one of those moments as we held our inaugural Home Team Homeowners event. We woke up to snow and ice that ushered in a typically unpredictable autumn for the St. Louis region. In spite of the inclement weather, the majority of the 75 registrants showed up to the Grand Marais Golf Club to connect with our sponsoring banks and real estate agencies, Midwest Bankcentre, Scott Credit Union, Thrivent, and Keller Williams Marquee, about opportunities to improve their finances and to buy homes here in East St. Louis. The ESTL-youth-owned business, The Foodie Bistro, catered one of our events for the second time this year providing delectable, elevated soul food options for attendees and demonstrating the utmost quality and professionalism.

Three years ago, we sent our first student. Maliyah Brown, to serve on the Federal Reserve's Student Board of Directors. She, a seventeen-year-old girl from the Gompers housing projects, wrote her entry essay on how three of her friends had been shot and died because it took 45 minutes for emergency responders to arrive after the call was made. She then tied that to how the city has limited tax revenue to fund emergency services, road repair, and our school district, all of which contributed in some way to the circumstances of her friends' deaths. This has always stuck with me, East St. Louis' property tax is 17%, more than double that of the neighboring suburbs. Of that 17%, 10% is allocated to our school district, while the adjacent cities pay 8% with 3% going to their school districts. Their 3% generates ten times the tax revenue of our 10%, while the majority of their funds can go to maintaining the city's infrastructure, police, fire department, and other essential services. The majority of ours goes towards the underfunded schools. The root of this is a desparity in property value. The average home in East St. Louis is priced at $70,000. Neighboring O'Fallon has a median home price of $320,000. This young girl's essay brought to light as serious issue we knew we needed to tackle, and given the pandemic we would not be able to begin working on it until this year.

By chance or by providence, our continued work towards financial literacy would draw attention from the people necessary to start this project to increase home ownership in East St. Louis. I would meet real estate agent and East St. Louisan, Patrice Tucker via Linked In, and a follow up phone conversation this summer would lead to organizing the Home Team Homeowners event this last Saturday. At the event, close to 60 people came to discuss their finances and learn about opportunities to improve their personal situations, build wealth, and buy homes. Dr. Alisa Vaughn from Midwest Bankcentre, an East St. Louis herself, gave a powerful presentation confronting the issues that people faced directly while offering answers to where they need to go and what they need to do to make a better financial future for them and for their families. As much as we work with kids in our organization after school or with the school district, they have to go home. If we do not work to help the parents, we are failing in our mission.

As the event wound down, everyone having eaten, all sponsors have presented and followed up with the attendees, it was time to raffle off the attendance prize: $250 to be deposited into an account with one of the sponsoring banks. While talking to everyone, many people made plans how they wanted to use the money. With the holidays coming up, some were thinking of getting gifts for their families. We called the numbers. Most of the attendees were still there til the end, and the winner was the mother of two of my former students. I hadn't seen her in a long time. Her oldest was now in high school. I worked with him five years ago. She came forward excited saying, "This is my start towards my down payment." That meant everything. All things come together for the good. Between the banks and credit unions, the realtors, our East St. Louis residents, our Board of Directors, the owners of the Grand Marais, the Foodie Bistro, Key Productions, and everyone else who made this day possible rain, sleet, or snow, I can say we are truly blessed. The more people we can get to own and maintain property here, the more who build up their finances, the more our property value increases, the more development and investment that follows, the more we can address the quandary of Maliyah's essay: to increase city revenue to better serve and protect its citizens. Thank you to everyone who made this day possible, and we look forward to our Home Team Homeowners event next summer.

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