Edison Initiative looks to break cycle of poverty through homeowner program

KALAMAZOO, MI — Living in subsidized housing and faced with rising rental rates and a competitive housing market, Rachel Richardson did not see home ownership as obtainable.

Thanks to the recently formed Edison Initiatives nonprofit organization, the 29-year-old single mother applied for and has been granted a new beginning and start that will take her one step closer to home ownership when she moves into a two-bed, one-bath home in the 1500 block of Lay Boulevard on Oct. 1.

The home, purchased by the nonprofit this January and renovated over the past year, features new flooring throughout, a fully remodeled kitchen and bath, a large backyard for Richardson’s 2-year-old son to play in, a garage and an unfurnished basement with storage space and laundry.

“Our agenda is to bring empowerment to the Edison neighborhood to combat gun violence, promote home ownership and to beautify spaces by making them valuable again,” said Rod Tucker, pastor at Edison Chapel and founder of Edison Initiatives. “We hope to create a space where the neighborhood is not a place where people want to get out of, but a place where people want to live and thrive.”

To accomplish that, Tucker said, the nonprofit selects a home, renovates it and then identifies a candidate who has never been a homeowner who needs a hand up to overcome obstacles preventing ownership.

Tucker said he and his wife, residents of the Edison neighborhood going on 10 years, have noticed a rise in gun violence and poverty in the neighborhood and were called to exploring housing development. That led them to founding Edison Chapel in 2019 and, two years later, Edison Initiatives.

Increasing home ownership, he said, is an important step in bringing peace and beautification to a city. The prior owner of Richardson’s home learned about Edison Initiatives and worked with them directly on the sale so that the property did not fall into the hands of a slum lord, he said.

“Our entire vision is to buy a home, renovate it, lease it to a family who has never owned a home before and then we help them get mortgage ready and once they are mortgage ready and we sell them the house and we give back a significant amount of their lease payments so they can avoid (private mortgage insurance) and then own their own home,” Tucker said.

“She’s a single mom, who works in the neighborhood, exiting subsidized housing to be able to own a home,” he said. “We’re thankful to partner with her and for all the businesses and people that come alongside.”

Partners — which included other churches, local businesses and neighbors all working for free — donated time, contract work, flooring and helped remodel the bathroom and kitchen.

Tucker was inspired by former Urban Alliance executive director Keith Platte, who has done similar projects in the past, and came on board to work with Edison Initiatives to see this project to fruition.

Related: Urban Alliance celebrates completion of house rehab in the Edison neighborhood

“In a housing market that makes it harder and harder for families to become homeowners, it is amazing to see the community come together and help a family realize their dream of owning a home, help bring stability to their family and help build wealth,” Platte said. “Generations can be transformed by the ability to own a home, and neighborhoods are stabilized by increasing the number of owner-occupied homes.

“It has a positive impact for all involved.”

Among the most excited is Richardson’s 2-year-old-son, who did not slow down during the entirety of the Sept. 22 open house at the property, running all around his new yard and home and hugging and saying “hi” to everyone.

“He’s going to get to grow up in his own house, and as an adult man, he’s going to come back here and visit his mom, and he’s going to want his own house,” said Talanja Steele, who serves on the Edison Initiatives board and was the recipient of a helping hand up through a similar program engineered by Platte.

Steele called her own experience life-changing, albeit scary, as she let go of the safety net that was Section 8, while also freeing herself from the restrictions of government housing. When she and her husband began leasing a home that they now own, as part of her program, she said there was so much she didn’t know about finances, repair costs and how to accumulate credit.

Now she is in a position to coach others like Richardson as they transition to stable, long-term housing.

Edison Initiatives Executive Director Jordan Kellicut said the organization is already discussing new projects and looking for opportunities to present themselves. The nonprofit continues to fundraise and bring on volunteers so that they can have the capital to buy another home when the time comes.

In the meantime, the organization will continue to offer services to Richardson, as they would any future residents at future properties. Those services include helping with financial training and budgeting, providing cost-free handyman services and meeting other needs.

“Part of our program includes a wraparound team,” Kellicut said. “So, as Rachel moves in, they are going to help her with anything she needs. She is in an amazing position, so I doubt there will be too much to worry about, but whatever she needs we’ll be there.”

At the heart of the program, he said, is a desire to combat poverty and systemic barriers to ownership.

“The only way we were going to do this is if we got together and said what resources can we pool to make it happen, so that’s what we’ve done,” Kellicut said. “Everybody has brought a little something to the table. This could be something that anybody in any neighborhood in Kalamazoo, or anywhere, could do.

“We just come together and say, ‘What can we bring?’ That sort of goodwill has a sort of cumulative effect.”

The Edison neighborhood, the largest and most racially diverse neighborhood in the city, has a median household income of $25,700, which is half of the median income for Kalamazoo County overall. Most of the homes in the area are renter-occupied.

For more information, visit edisoninitiatives.org or email [email protected].

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