Home ownership may be the most iconic emblem of economic stability for American families, but the pursuit of that goal has drawn too many working-class families into the deceptive agreements knows as “lease option purchase contracts.” To understand the impact of these contracts, visit Youngstown’s South Side, as organizers with the ACORN Home Savers Campaign have been doing, talking with people who signed leases with Vision Property Management.
Picture this: About a third of the lots in the neighborhoods are empty, some the site of demolitions so recent that you can still smell the dirt. On other two thirds, about half of the houses are abandoned and in disrepair, if not all but destroyed. In some cases, parts of them have collapsed.
The occupied houses have their own issues, but they bear the hallmark signs of occupancy: children’s toys, trash cans at the side of the house, lawn chairs on the porch if not a car in the driveway and lights on. Many need work, including all of those owned by Vision or one of its associated corporations. In some cases, they need major repairs.
When organizers knocked on the door of one of those houses, the skeptical woman who came to the door first tried to get rid of them. But when the organizers repeated their mission, to learn about her experience with Vision, her face changed. “Hold on,” she said. “I’m going to come out to talk to you guys.”
And for the next 15 minutes, she talked about how she had just lost her job and, for the first time, fallen behind on her payments. She was stuck. She had made payments for three years. She had made thousands of dollars worth of repairs during that period to make the home habitable. Her situation was precarious now. By the terms of the “lease option” she could be evicted for nonpayment and lose the house, her down payment, and everything she had worked to achieve. She was clear: she needed to get out of this lease and get on a better track to home ownership.