Breaking the Cycle of Poverty

By Jennifer Johnson

Emmanuel House originally began as a simple effort to help a few Afghani refugees resettle near Aurora, IL. Rick and Hayley Meksi, in partnership with Community 4:12 and Community Christian Church in Naperville, IL, launched the organization in 2007 after realizing how difficult it was for these refugee families to “break into” the housing market. The concept expanded, and the ministry now helps families from a variety of backgrounds struggling with similar issues.

Yohani, Vestine, and their five children stand on the porch of their first home which they purchased after graduating from Emmanuel House’s savings program.
Yohani, Vestine, and their five children stand on the porch of their first home which they purchased after graduating from Emmanuel House’s savings program.

“We realized there were a number of people caught in the cycle of generational poverty,” says Hayley. “A lack of stability in the family, including the lack of a permanent home, meant kids weren’t graduating from high school or they were taking low-wage jobs—which meant their kids would likely experience the same struggles. Homeownership is one of the factors proven to break this cycle.”

The statistics bear this out; according to Emmanuel House’s research, a family that owns its own home is 25 percent more likely to have students who graduate from high school, 116 percent more likely to graduate students from college, and 12 times wealthier than a renting family after 10 years.

The Meksis created a financial model that connects eligible working families with church sponsors and community members to make it possible for them to purchase their first home. Instead of the struggle facing many families who pay so much in rent that they are never able to save the down payment for a home, families participating in the Emmanuel House “networked savings” program can save a down payment in only 18 months, while still paying market-rate rent on an apartment.

Here’s how it works: An individual invests in the program by buying a duplex to be used as an Emmanuel House property. A participating family—after completing a credit check and beginning homeownership classes—pays rent to live in the building. However, after the first three months, an increasing portion of their rent payment actually goes not to the landlord, but toward their down payment, and after 18 months they’ve saved a full year’s worth of payments into a personal fund.

Meanwhile, churches, small groups, and individuals sponsor the family for $400 each month to “cover” the remaining rent payments, and others donate for extra needs, help out with building maintenance and rehab, and build relationships with the families. The Emmanuel House staff also helps the families with financial classes, access to Realtors, and other preparation for home ownership.

Although Community Christian and many other church and community partners have provided most of the program’s referrals so far, Hayley says the reputation of the program is growing and they’re receiving more queries from families wanting to participate.

The Emmanuel House website notes that their name comes not only from the recognition that God is with us, but also that we have a mission to be with God and get involved in his work. Their calling, they say, is based on Isaiah 58:12: “You will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.”

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