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Paul Perez, Homeownership and Wealth Building Advocate

By: Coretta Mondesir - May 28, 2019

An Interview with Paul Perez

Paul Perez hosting a workshop, Bite and Build, through his company Better Living Interest, LLC - Buffalo, New York

Paul Perez hosting a workshop, Bite and Build, through his company Better Living Interest, LLC - Buffalo, New York


Wrapping up Financial Literacy Month in April, Black + Urban is featuring Paul Perez; an entrepreneur and a community advocate for wealth building. In a 90-minute video call, I was graced with the calm and caring aura of Paul as we talked about life in NY and the social mobility of people of color.

Paul is a 29-year-old, Afro-Latino born and raised in South Bronx of New York City. The excitement and pride of a Bronx native was evident within the first few minutes. As a graduate of Lehman High School, he was awarded a scholarship to Buffalo State; in which he was kicked out of school after the first semester. He recognizes that he wasn’t fully prepared for the college experience, but quickly gathered that he needed to re-enter and do things differently. Fast forward a few years, as an EOP recipient for both undergraduate and graduate studies, Paul is a decorated with a Bachelor’s in History and a Master’s in Public Administration.

Paul’s impressive resume includes community organizing, work with non-profit organizations, and Mayor’s Office in Buffalo. He also ran programs that address blight, poverty, violence, and drug addiction with a private-public partnership such as the Clean Sweep Program; in which he analyzed and evaluated the effectiveness of the program for his Master’s thesis. By trade, Paul is a Mortgage Counselor, or Loan Originator, based out of Buffalo, NY. He credits his youth and energy for keeping afloat in the mortgage industry; and uses it to continue advocacy for wealth building and home ownership. Being a Mortgage Counselor has been the most rewarding and fulfilling position he has held; and his entry to the mortgage industry was inspired by his surroundings. While his roots are still grounded in the Bronx, and he visits his family often, Buffalo awarded Paul an opportunity he couldn’t resist. His observations of the major transformations occurring throughout NY, both downstate and upstate in the name of economic development inspired his transition into the mortgage industry.

“It’s like a bar exam and a CPA. I almost lost a few locs!
— Paul Perez

What Does a Mortgage Counselor Do?

When asked whose interests he serve, without hesitation, Paul says “People First”.

Paul’s passion for the people is demonstrated in his early efforts around community organizing, and he takes pride in providing access to wealth, especially to people that feel like it’s not attainable. Last year he closed loans for 17 families, 22 families to date totaling up to about 4 million dollars. Paul’s certification and work with NACA, Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, a non-profit HUD certified homeownership and advocacy organization allows him to work throughout all of New York State, with access to single and multi-family homes with no closing costs, no down payment, no credit score consideration and below market interest rates.

NACA’s office provides mortgages by Bank of America; in the wake of the subprime lending crisis in 2008, Bank of America is one of the few financial institutions taking steps towards rectifying the relationship with the community, and imploring better money habits. Paul believes that Bank of America has “created better policies and procedures to helping people on a pathway of homeownership. They do a good job of a low recidivism and foreclosure rate”. He continues that policies have been put in place to alleviate the risk of another housing crisis; such as licensing for mortgage loan originators.

NACA is able to lower the barriers of entry to the home buying process due to an unconventional way of determining home ownership readiness and wealth. It looks at payment history, at least 2 years of accounts reported to credit agencies and does not consider credit score. It also looks at affordability, using a common formula of debt-to-income ratio.

These low barriers of entry demonstrate signs of subprime lending, but with a new face. Paul points out that larger institutions have been able to circumvent policy violations in the wake of Dodd-Frank Act, by creating and operating through smaller, or shadow, lending institutions not held to the same standard. While the symptoms exist, Paul’s dedication to his community and granting access to wealth prevails.

There is solace in ensuring that a family is ready to become homeowners, and in the event that they are not, Paul through NACA, provides financial counseling; assessing a family’s financial and emotional readiness, as well as giving guidance on make on-time payments and reduce debts. As Paul jokes, its “not just mortgage counseling, sometimes its marriage counseling”.

Homeownership: the Economy and Policy

Paul believes that the everyday person does not have enough money to afford, or access a good quality of life. He attributes that financial strain to student loans and calls it “a massive chain holding a lot of people down” that surpasses the housing crisis back in 2008-2009. It’s been predicted that our generation is to die in student loan debt. Alongside student loan debt, credit card companies and the auto loan industry remain predatory and lack real regulation.

You know it’s serious when it’s affecting the middle class; and [that was represented by] predominantly White suburban America…  and its trickling into our community. We’re already at a disservice trying to climb the ladder… just fighting for equity
— Paul Perez

When asked about Buffalo specifically, Paul states that Buffalo is comparative to that of the rest of the Midwest, or Rust Belt in that lots of jobs have not only left the cities, but the country. As Paul puts it, Buffalo is not like the coastal cities, it’s very in the middle and just performing, catching up and correcting itself. He observes that developments tend to be tall buildings designed for people to rent, and not own. While we still need to address homelessness being on the rise in every major city, and lack of affordable housing; rental units are needed, but when presented with the opportunity, people should consider buying before the market becomes more scarce.

Paul and I really connected on personal finance pedagogy, or the inclusion of financial literacy in education. He advocates that people need to learn how money and wealth works as students, rather than in adulthood. He strongly believes in teaching the principles of understanding the difference between assets and liabilities; especially considering he did not have the fortune of learning about until later in life.

We are currently in a recession
— Paul Perez

 Black and Latino Communities and Homeownership

Paul wants nothing more than to see people doing well for themselves, especially people of color in the Black and Latinx communities. He believes that information is our key; as it will provide the education we need to grow and prosper. He points to his phone; “those of us with smart phones have the privilege of access. We can create, like, share, retweet, what we want to see and what we want to hear. We have the power to talk about real things; and while we’ve started those conversations, we need to continue.” He has observed people of other cultures passing on assets to their families, and is disheartened when our communities are often plagued with passing on liabilities due to oppressive systems in place.  Paul was tired of living check to check, and encourages others to be ‘tired’ too. He encourages us to embrace individual accountability and continue to uplift each other, and learn how we can prosper even with the barriers of entry as a person of color.

While it’s worth nothing, that there is a fear of the unknown; a fear of being taken advantage of; and the big decision with lifelong implications, home buying doesn’t have to be scary.

Bite and Build

Bite and Build is a meeting of the minds that’s growing organically. It started with an awareness of the knowledge gap for the management of a home. Paul states that he wanted to take a Machiavelli approach in assisting families to approach and get in the position of owning a home; maintaining the property by providing access to contractors, lawyers; and then to expand or pursue larger homes or commercial properties.

Paul’s goal and vision for his company Better Living interest LLC, is to provide sustainable housing and educate people abut investing; not just in real estate, but investing in themselves and their families, and their education (formally and informally). His company is also exploring opportunities to create green infrastructure and find ways to get involved in sustainable energy and urban farming.

Ultimately, Paul says he is just looking to continue the work of those that came before us; paying tribute to that of late Nipsey Hussle, and operating in resemblance of Black Wall Street, Jay Morrison, Dr. Watkins, Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Booker T. Washington.

Attendants at a Better Living Interest, LLC. Bite and Build Workshop.

Attendants at a Better Living Interest, LLC. Bite and Build Workshop.

Coretta Mondesir is a contributor of Black + Urban, and her views and opinions are her own. This editorial is not an endorsement of any of the organizations mentioned and does not contain any affiliate links.

For More Information, please contact Better Living Interest LLC’s at: betterlivinginterestllc@gmail.com

All photos are courtesy of Paul Perez.