Homeowners’ lights burn bright in Baltimore
With help from an award-winning nonprofit and a LIFT down payment grant, two homeowners turn a troubled past into a bright future in urban Baltimore.
David Anderson and Devin Lee bear little resemblance today to the struggling men of their much younger years, decades ago. They have emerged from lives gone awry to become paragons of their community in urban Baltimore, said Joe Jones, founder and head of the Center for Urban Families, a nonprofit that works with inner-city populations in economic need. For a decade, it has counted Anderson, 61, and Lee, 40, among its clients.
“They have grown to be the kind of guys you want in your neighborhood,” said Jones, a self-described “recovering knucklehead,” who overcame a life of drugs and crime in his teens to lead an award-winning agency. “They look out for each other, their families, and their community. And you want them as your neighbors.”
A long journey to change
Anderson’s and Lee’s journey to transformation reached a milestone in 2013 when the nonprofit helped them qualify for a homeownership assistance program sponsored by Wells Fargo, NeighborWorks® America, and Neighborhood Housing Services of Baltimore. At different times, they completed the nonprofit’s job development program, known as STRIVE®, and homebuyer counseling from Wells Fargo.
“Wells Fargo invested in these guys when nobody else in America would have. This is a model of what it looks like to really give people a chance.” — Joe Jones, founder and head of the Center for Urban Families
With the help from the center — also supported in part by Wells Fargo — Anderson started his own pest control firm and Lee landed work as a commercial truck driver. They qualified for $15,000 down payment grants from Wells Fargo’s CityLIFT (part of the NeighborhoodLIFT® family of programs) and received other help from a Baltimore city housing program.
They never met, however, until becoming next-door neighbors and first-time homeowners in a West Baltimore neighborhood. “Now we are good friends,” Anderson said. “He’s got keys to my house, and I got keys to his house. We help each other out with pretty much anything when the need arises.”
Both credit Jones and his nonprofit with changing their lives and putting them on the right track.
“It was the right program at the right time for me,” Lee said. “Without Joe’s program, I would never have known about CityLIFT and being a homeowner. I’m just really thankful for it all.”
“Joe was an inspiration to us all the way,” Anderson said. “We knew he had gone through the same things we had gone through, and he had come out of it to do so much good. You just begin to believe, if he can do that, then we could too.”
Power to LIFT up lives
In addition to Anderson and Lee, nearly 390 individuals and families became homeowners through CityLIFT’s $5.8 million Baltimore program in 2012, according to Wells Fargo data. The company and its nonprofit partners launched a $6 million NeighborhoodLIFT program this past June that is projected to create 350 homeowners.
“Homeownership brought a stable influence to their living, their family, their work, and every aspect of their lives. These great stories show the reverberating impact of the grant program and how it changes lives for the better.” — Monica Mitchell, head of Wells Fargo Community Relations in Maryland
In their determination to overcome adversity and build new lives, Anderson and Lee embody the goals of the LIFT down payment grant programs, said Monica Mitchell, head of Wells Fargo Community Relations in Maryland, who is also credited with playing a key role in helping Anderson and Lee.
“Homeownership brought a stable influence to their living, their family, their work, and every aspect of their lives,” she said. “These great stories show the reverberating impact of the grant program and how it changes lives for the better.”
Through the years, Wells Fargo has also made many philanthropic contributions in Maryland, including $6.2 million to 232 nonprofits in 2018, focusing on work in housing affordability, small business growth, financial health, access to education, and workforce development, according to Mitchell.
Investment that pays long-term dividends
Since 2012, LIFT has invested $500 million across the U.S. to help create more than 22,700 homeowners in 900 municipalities through 78 program launches, according to the Wells Fargo Foundation, the company’s philanthropic arm. In June, the company announced a commitment to donate $1 billion over the next six years to affordable housing efforts, including NeighborhoodLIFT.
“As we see in the lives and communities it has changed in Baltimore, a LIFT grant is the kind of investment that pays dividends months and years down the road,” said Kim Smith-Moore, national leader of the LIFT programs. “NeighborhoodLIFT is an example of the Foundation’s commitment to bring forward housing affordability solutions to communities across the U.S.”
For Anderson and Lee, those dividends continue to pay off.
With Mitchell’s help, Anderson has gained new clients for his home-based pest control business. Earlier this year, a team of urban artists volunteered to paint a brightly colored mural on his home to help promote his business. In large bold letters, for all to see, it now reads “DWA Pest Service.” Lee, a single father, is raising his 15-year-old daughter, an honor roll student who won a citywide gifted student award. He recently opened a Wells Fargo savings account for her.
For Jones, their lives are a testament to believing in people.
“Wells Fargo invested in these guys when nobody else in America would have,” he said. “This is a model of what it looks like to really give people a chance. Dave and Devin understand that if you really dedicate yourself to changing your lifestyle, and developing discipline and a work ethic, you can change your future, regardless of what you’ve done in the past.”