Grandmothers are associated with all kinds of wisdom—they contain lifetimes of knowledge about cooking, sewing, babies. They know how to remove stubborn stains and use bobby pins correctly. Jasmine Smith’s* grandmother Clarice had a different set of skills to pass along: real estate investment and property management. “She was very clear that you had to own property,” Jasmine says. And not just own it, maintain it. Clarice taught her granddaughter from a young age to do-it-yourself. Glaze a bathtub, re-light the pilot, install carpet. Why pay a stranger?
Clarice was vocal about the shortsightedness of others’ spending choices. She explained that a neighbor couldn’t travel like Jasmine's family because “she spent all her money on cigarettes.” Clarice was determined to help Jasmine and her siblings and cousins build wealth in an area not exactly known for its financial capital: their hometown of Inglewood, California, in central Los Angeles, home of the Crips and Bloods, where corner liquor stores and barred windows are ubiquitous.
Gritty Inglewood is nine miles distant from postcard-perfect Santa Monica and has a similar sized population. On paper, the comparison is not favorable: Inglewood’s residents’ median income is half that of Santa Monica’s, and its average home price is less than one-third. But these statistics do not capture the vibrancy of Inglewood, its close-knit communities, the pervasive friendliness of the people here. Clarice and Jasmine were both deeply proud to call it home; Clarice hung a plaque above their front steps that read Poverty Heights.
When she was facing her third and final bout with cancer, Clarice called Jasmine and asked her if she would like to rent-to-own the house next door to her childhood home—which now belonged to Jasmine's aunt. Raised as she was, Jasmine says she “knew the answer was yes.” Clarice would have it no other way. Jasmine was twenty years old, still in college. Clarice died a few months later.
When Jasmine graduated, she returned to Inglewood and entered a city program for first-time low-income homebuyers, now defunct. Participants met two evenings per month to learn the basics of finance, “the kinds of things you should learn in college, but don’t,” Jasmine says, laughing. Jasmine still has the binder of handouts she received in these classes, such as a letter to send to credit bureaus if one needs to repair one’s credit. (She regularly shares these resources with people she sees following in her footsteps.) Participants received individual counseling sessions in which they were accountable for making regular savings account deposits; these deposits were matched by the program if participants kept up their attendance. Jasmine recalls that though she was the youngest in the program, there were others in their twenties from all walks of life; she felt she was among peers. Plus, she felt lucky that she already had a home to buy, thanks to Clarice, as others struggled to find affordable options and were pushed in their search to the outer limits of Los Angeles County.
Now Jasmine has been a homeowner for fifteen years. Inglewood is rapidly changing, with two major stadium projects planned, and a metro stop for the airport opening soon. Easy access to LAX, beaches, and greater Los Angeles make Inglewood a hidden gem on the cusp of discovery by gentrifying forces. But Jasmine isn’t worried. “I have a seat at the table because I am a homeowner,” she says. Jasmine learned from her grandmother that property ownership is a sure thing: people will always need a roof over their heads. Rather than a quilt or lace doily, Clarice gave Jasmine the gift of financial literacy.
*Name has been changed.
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