Owning a home in the US is very different from owning a home in Haiti. Here, housing holds up our economy, so the government keeps a close eye on lenders. And ever since 2008, we’ve been much more careful about giving out credit lines to people. But in Haiti, credit works differently. Everything does.
When I lived there, it was a running joke that you had to be patient with the mailman, because chances were that you’d almost never get your mail on time—if ever. Things are so unregulated in Haiti, that interest rates largely depend on who you are and who you know—which is similar to how the US used to process credit rates back in the ‘70s, back before FICO scores were invented.
In Haiti, with its high levels of economic and political instability, it’s difficult to plan too far ahead. Even the ground can’t be trusted, as we’ve seen every time an earthquake rocks the country. Each year in Haiti is full of uncertainty as the country braces for another shortage, another earthquake, another president that doesn’t care about the country. And after this year, full of natural disasters, a presidential assassination, and thousands of Haitians displaced and mistreated at every turn, the country’s footing is, as always, anything but stable.
So when it comes to buying a home in Haiti, this sounds like a far off dream. Sure, you could take out a loan, but the local credit union might fail. Or your interest rate might be too high. In most cases, the lack of structure in Haiti is what drives people’s sense of self-sufficiency—their endless innovation when faced with problems that would make most people give up.
The lack of faith in the Haitian government directly impacts personal finance. Soldes are common solutions for saving up money, particularly in rural areas, where you have no one else to rely on but your community. Soldes are group savings, where the community pools their money together, taking turns using the funds. Although a nice idea, it’s not a failsafe against an unregulated economy, because only one person can use the funds at a time.
We always need to keep in mind that people are affected by government policies. While we all have our own individual will and drive to accomplish and overcome, people should never be scapegoated for things out of their control.
I’m sure you’ve all heard of the shameful images of Haitians being whipped at the Texas border near the Rio Grande. As a Haitian-American myself, I take special issue with how dehumanizing the recent treatment of Haitians has been.
Back in Haiti, I used to see people build their own homes from scratch. It’s what the average American family used to do, back when the mortgage industry wasn’t around. I used to go to work in the morning and see the same family building their home brick by brick near the site I was working on. It was slow, heavy work. But there was nothing like watching the satisfaction on their faces once they had finally finished their home. With either their hands on their hips or wiping their sweat off of their brow, the pride was palpable, and it did me good to witness the core of what makes housing so important: security.
We all want to feel safe, loved, and taken care of. In a lot of ways, we’re responsible for giving ourselves much of this. But some manifestations of care rely on outside forces to keep us safe, and to have our best interest at heart. In the same way that my team and I will guide home buyers through their options patiently and transparently, I think it’s important for us to acknowledge that holding space for others is a must. The concept goes beyond holding a door open for someone, or performing the occasional kindness. It doesn’t matter where someone’s from or who they are—we each have core values instilled in us that guide our relationships and trickle down into our business models. And my core values exist in creating community.
Even now, I get goosebumps retelling the story of those families back in Haiti building their own homes. I never got to know them very well, but they’d invite me in occasionally. Even without a living room, they were always happy to extend their hospitality. They’d offer me coffee and biscuits, or a glass of water. Sometimes, we’d have lunch together when I’d take a break.
I admired the faith they put into the home they had built. And it’s something that I strive to recreate at Rate Leaf everyday—the idea that more than performing kindness, we should embody it. And more than embodying it, we should fortify it with purpose. Intentional kindness is the best cure for pointless cruelty, like those images at the border.
Intentional kindness isn’t a random act or a response to someone else’s thoughtfulness. Intentional kindness is founded in faith and driven by purpose, and it thrives under the idea that consistency is the catalyst for change. In the same way that consistency preserves tradition, being intentional goes a long way towards changing our culture for the better.
My goal in coming to work everyday and doing what I do is to counter things like what happened at the border through everyday acts of service. Acts that remind us that the work we do is larger than ourselves—and it should never be tainted by ego or bias.
Rather than chasing people away, I want to let them know that once they walk through our doors, they are secure. It’s something I desperately wish for the people being displaced from countries like Haiti, Venezuela, and now—the American renters that are being evicted in our own backyards.
Our housing system, like our immigration system, was not built to be kind. But showing others how to navigate financial waters is my way of holding space for people, because it’s what I know, and it’s what I’m good at. I know what it’s like to be turned away, to be dismissed for not knowing enough or knowing too much, and if I can help provide some security to my clients, be they refugees, millionaires, or someone simply looking to step into the next chapter of their lives—you can bet that that’s what I’m going to do.