Monica Wright showed her first house 27 years ago — exactly one week after her fourth daughter was born.
Before she became a real estate sales agent at DJCRE Property Management on Snyder Avenue near 16th Street, Wright lived in a Section 8 housing complex near Jefferson Square in Southwark. She was a single mother of four — soon to be five — children.
Then she closed a sale. And another. Soon, Wright estimated, she started earning $24,000 a month. And by the time her five children had started high school, she finally felt financially secure.
Within 12 years, Wright said, working in real estate had brought her out of poverty.
Now, she wants to help others reap the same benefits. On Saturday, Wright will host two events to educate single parents about housing and real estate. The 10 a.m. session will be at the Church of the Advocate on Diamond Street near 18th, and at 2 p.m., she’ll offer another at her real estate office in South Philly.
Important disclaimer: These classes aren’t a replacement for state licensing requirements. They’re just a supplemental way to brush up on real estate, including landlords’ and renters’ rights.
Each will have 14 seats available — but good luck snagging a spot. The Facebook event for the afternoon session has more than 2,000 people RSVP’d yes and 61k people interested.
‘There were hundreds of thousands of them’
“When I posted that, my mailbox filled up with, ‘I’m a single parent, I’m homeless, can you help me?’” Wright said. “There were hundreds of thousands of them.”
One story broke her heart — a young mother saw the class had already filled up, and she called her begging for help for herself and her baby’s father. They needed somewhere to live.
Wright offered to send the young mother educational links and study with her one-on-one for the licensing exam.
“The class filled up, so I didn’t have space for them,” Wright said. “But I basically said, ‘I’m going to stay in touch with as many people as I can.’”
She decided to turn the info sessions into a weekly series. On Jan. 20, Wright will try to provide event access to 1,400 people, both in person via rolling groups at her real estate office, and nationally via a livestream broadcast.
Wright first thought about hosting the class after she started attending community meetings in several Philly neighborhoods. Four years ago, after she sold a property in Point Breeze, she suddenly had some free time on her hands.
“I immersed myself in community work,” Wright said. “Every meeting I went to, every last person was…pretty much housing insecure.”
“I know some of the leaders of these groups, and they’re older, and they’re homeless,” said Leah Wright, Monica’s daughter. “We know that they’re homeless, but they won’t come out to the people in the crowd and say that they’re in a bad financial situation.”
Monica knew she had the skills to help these people.
She owned several properties on Reach Street in Kensington, which used to house Monica’s now-closed daycare service. She decided to clean up these houses and sell some of them to people who needed housing but didn’t have much. To supplement the money she would have to put in to redevelop them, she scraped together additional cash from an Entrepreneur Works loan and a GoFundMe page. She leaned on connections with local construction workers to make the improvements on the houses, and then offered them for well below market rate.
She sold three Reach Street properties to people who were housing insecure — one for $15,000, another for $10,000 and another for just $5,000. (In the same neighborhood, properties are now going for $80,000 to $155,000, on average.) “I can make those deals,” she said.
Make no mistake: Monica insists these aren’t handouts. People still have to come up with the money to buy the houses, and they’re certainly not in perfect condition when sold. She’s just providing fixer-uppers so disadvantaged people have a chance to get started.
“You can’t just give it away,” Leah said. “If people want someone to just hand them a silver platter, I guess they’re going to be dreaming, because we can’t. Nobody is giving anything away.”
‘I need a house’
Leah was the first person to secure a spot in this Saturday’s afternoon session. She has three kids, and her fourth is due in a few weeks.
“I’m going to get my real estate license because I need a house,” Leah said. “I don’t want to flip houses. I don’t have the money to flip houses. I need something I can live in on a day-to-day basis.”
Why’d the event go viral? Monica thinks for a lot of people, her honesty was refreshing. She knows many who are too ashamed to admit they’re housing insecure.
“It went viral because a lot of people are in the same situation,” Leah said. “People need a way out…. If getting a real estate license is going to help better them, they’ll do it.”