BUILD­ING A HOUSE AND A PLAN: PRO BONO AWARDS

Amy Born pro­vides one-on-one pro bono plan­ning in­ter­ven­tion to Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity home­own­ers.

Financial Planning - - FRONT PAGE - By Ann Marsh

A sin­gle mother, a Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity ben­e­fi­ciary, had fallen se­verely be­hind on her mort­gage pay­ment. Now she risked los­ing the af­ford­able home she and her spe­cial needs daugh­ter re­lied upon — and all the sta­bil­ity it pro­vided. “She was ig­nor­ing the sit­u­a­tion and hop­ing it would go away,” says Amy Born, an ad­vi­sor with the Hightower firm Aca­cia Wealth Ad­vi­sors in Bev­erly Hills, Cal­i­for­nia, who stepped in af­ter a Habi­tat em­ployee gen­tly told the woman, “I re­ally think it would be help­ful if you would meet with the fi­nan­cial plan­ner that we bring in.” Since 2015, Born has been help­ing low-in­come fam­i­lies through a one-onone pro bono fi­nan­cial plan­ning pro­gram de­signed to help peo­ple like the dis­tressed mother, who Born says had paid $20,000 to $30,000 in un­ex­pected med­i­cal ex­penses over a cou­ple of years af­ter her teenage daugh­ter was di­ag­nosed with schizophre­nia. Even­tu­ally, af­ter Born’s prod­ding, the mother found gov­ern­ment as­sis­tance that should en­able her to keep her home. Born is now the re­cip­i­ent of the 2018 Pro Bono Award for her con­tri­bu­tions to that pro­gram, which could serve as a tem­plate for free one-on-one plan­ning in­ter­ven­tions at Habi­tat af­fil­i­ates through­out South­ern Cal­i­for­nia and else­where in the coun­try. The award, spon­sored jointly by Fi­nan­cial Plan­ning and the Foun­da­tion for Fi­nan­cial Plan­ning, rec­og­nizes plan­ners who have gone above and be­yond pro­vid­ing one-on-one pro bono plan­ning to peo­ple who oth­er­wise could not af­ford it. To sup­port Born’s on­go­ing work, the foun­da­tion will con­trib­ute $5,000 to Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity of Greater Los An­ge­les to help more as­pir­ing low­in­come home­own­ers in the pro­hib­i­tively ex­pen­sive lo­cal hous­ing mar­ket. The foun­da­tion has pro­vided past grants to help the Habi­tat af­fil­i­ate bol­ster the same pro­gram’s reach. A global non­profit based in the United States, Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity helps to build, buy and re­ha­bil­i­tate af­ford­able homes for low-in­come peo­ple here and in 70 other coun­tries. It also pro­vides af­ford­able mort­gages to as­pir­ing home­own­ers and in­vites them to re­main part of the Habi­tat com­mu­nity for the du­ra­tion of their lives, if they so choose. The af­fil­i­ate where Born vol­un­teers is one of 1,400 such op­er­a­tions around the coun­try. Born’s his­tory in pro bono plan­ning pre­dates her Habi­tat work. For the past seven years, she has helped run vol­un­teer ac­tiv­i­ties through the FPA of Los An­ge­les. From 2014 to 2017, she served as the chap­ter’s pro bono di­rec­tor. For years, she helped or­ga­nize an­nual Fi­nan­cial Plan­ning Days at the Los An­ge­les Pub­lic Li­brary; this pro­gram, she says, rou­tinely at­tracts about 250 peo­ple seek­ing help. When Born be­gan work­ing with Habi­tat, the one-on-one pro­gram

“For me, do­ing pro bono work brings me back down to earth, not hav­ing to deal with rich-peo­ple prob­lems,” says Amy Born, 2018 Pro Bono Award win­ner.

pro­vided only spo­radic ser­vices and lacked suf­fi­cient in­volve­ment from qual­i­fied plan­ners. Not any­more. “It was a dream prob­a­bly four years ago. Now it’s stan­dard op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dure,” says Francesca Dib­rito, vice pres­i­dent of de­vel­op­ment for Habi­tat in Los An­ge­les. “There’s an in­sti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion that’s come be­cause of [Born]. It’s not just Amy sit­ting down with fam­i­lies. It’s her help­ing us to set up a pro­gram that’s changed our cul­tural process with our fam­i­lies. I love it.” Born’s vol­un­teer hours go into an ecosys­tem chock-full of ed­u­ca­tional re­quire­ments but greatly in need of hands-on plan­ning. In Los An­ge­les, as­pir­ing Habi­tat home­own­ers must take 40 hours of fi­nan­cial lit­er­acy classes to qual­ify to buy a newly built or re­ha­bil­i­tated home. They must have good credit and prove they can ser­vice a mort­gage and main­tain a home, fi­nan­cially and lo­gis­ti­cally, when it comes to re­pairs. To that end, they help build their own homes and other Habi­tat dwellings. They save for their down pay­ment and find tra­di­tional bank loans that they sup­ple­ment with Habi­tat loans. The lat­ter are of­ten so-called “silent loans,” which cost the home­own­ers noth­ing for decades but come due all at once with a bal­loon pay­ment at 30 years. Some home­own­ers save to pay them off or choose to do so when they sell their homes.

A Crit­i­cal Piece

How­ever, Habi­tat’s mul­ti­fac­eted pro­gram has been miss­ing a crit­i­cal piece since the greater Los An­ge­les chap­ter was founded about 30 years ago, Dib­rito says. That’s cus­tomiza­tion. Un­til 2015, when­ever home­own­ers or prospec­tive home­own­ers found them­selves flum­moxed by seem­ingly in­sur­mount­able fi­nan­cial chal­lenges, Habi­tat work­ers had to con­fess that they lacked the train­ing to help them. En­ter Born and other FPA vol­un­teers. Born be­gan teach­ing the Habi­tat fi­nan­cial workshops, which are open to all aid re­cip­i­ents, from those who bought homes 10 or 20 years ago to those who ex­pect to do so in the fu­ture. She also has re­cruited about 10 CFPS to pro­vide one-on-one plan­ning ses­sions. Per­son­ally, she has worked with nearly 50 peo­ple in­di­vid­u­ally so far, Dib­rito says. Born also “has con­nected fi­nan­cial plan­ners to our sis­ter af­fil­i­ate, Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity in the San Gabriel Val­ley, which will re­sult in serv­ing more low-in­come An­ge­lenos in the com­ing years,” Dib­rito says. She hopes the pro­gram will be adopted by other af­fil­i­ates coun­try­wide. Al­though Born meets typ­i­cally with peo­ple just once, Habi­tat sur­veys have shown that the ses­sions have been im­pact­ful, Dib­rito says. In some in­stances, Born does of­fer to meet with clients for fur­ther fol­low-up. “She showed us how we could go about pay­ing off our home,” says Frances Ramos, 42, who in Novem­ber moved into a newly built Habi­tat home in the city of Mon­te­bello with her hus­band and two boys. The cou­ple has a third boy on the way. All told, Ramos and her hus­band put in 500 hours build­ing their own home and other Habi­tat homes for a year be­fore they moved into their new place. Born de­liv­ered her plan­ning ad­vice “in a way that was com­fort­able for me,” says Ramos, a stay-at-home mom whose hus­band makes $42,000 a year, “and she gave us dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios. She gave us a plan that works for us and was af­ford­able.”

Bal­ance the Chal­lenges

Born says her work with Habi­tat helps to bal­ance the chal­lenges of her day job, pro­vid­ing plan­ning and in­vest­ment ser­vices to clients with av­er­age as­sets of $20 mil­lion. Most are busi­ness own­ers, with com­plex needs and pre­dictably de­mand­ing at­ti­tudes, she says. “For me,” Born says, “do­ing pro bono work brings me back down to earth, not hav­ing to deal with rich­peo­ple prob­lems.” A side ben­e­fit is that it sharp­ens her skills ad­vis­ing her wealthy clients’ mid­dle class fam­ily mem­bers. “It helps with just re­ally prac­ti­cal ad­vice for those who are just start­ing out,” she says. For Ramos and her fam­ily, Habi­tat en­abled them to leave a noisy rented

du­plex across the street from a drug dealer. Their new, spa­cious two-story, four-bed­room place has a two-car garage, a gar­den in front and an ar­ti­fi­cial lawn in back where their kids can play, all for a mort­gage pay­ment of $662 a month. They live down the street from other Habi­tat home­own­ers whose homes they helped build. Born showed Ramos how she and her hus­band can save for the bal­loon pay­ment loom­ing 30 years down the line, she says. “It was help­ful,” Ramos says of the in­put she got from Born. “I needed to hear it from an ex­pert, from a pro­fes­sional that helped me have a sense of se­cu­rity, know­ing we would be able to do this with our fi­nances. There’s no way I would go and pay a fi­nan­cial

plan­ner to do this.” For Born, there’s sat­is­fac­tion work­ing for a non­profit that sets high stan­dards for the peo­ple and fam­i­lies it serves, while also pro­vid­ing con­tin­u­ing sup­port over the course of clients’ lives. The goal, Dib­rito says, is am­bi­tiously long-term: to break the cy­cle of poverty for suc­ces­sive gen­er­a­tions. Habi­tat pro­vides “a hand-up, not a hand­out,” Born says. “Their goal is a sense of com­mu­nity,” she says, “and we are part of that.” This year’s run­ner-up award for the Pro Bono Award goes to a for­mer naval in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer-turned fi­nan­cial plan­ner, Dolores “Didi” Dorsett, who lever­ages her an­a­lyt­i­cal skills from her mil­i­tary ca­reer to help work­ing poor fam­i­lies nav­i­gate debt and bud­get­ing chal­lenges near the na­tion’s cap­i­tal.

Amy Born at a Cul­ver City, Cal­i­for­nia, site where Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity is build­ing 10 homes.

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