Moms sometimes need help in untangling the tangles

By Dexter Hall

In the 1990s, when I was a newly minted vice president/bank manager, I returned to Waco from California to visit my mother. Being nosy and seeing if I could help with anything, I was going through my mother’s basket of mail that needed to be acted upon. I noticed a tax invoice from the McLennan County Tax Assessor addressed to Eula Square.

Now, you have heard me talk about my mother, Mrs. Mildred Y. Hall, but let me introduce you to Mrs. Eula Square or MomME as we called her. MomME was my mother’s grandmother and my great-grandmother. She and her husband, my great-grandfather, John Square, had built the house (with some neighborhood men) where my mother lived in the ’90s.

In my mother’s eyes she owned the house and was a fierce protector of the house and land that her grandparents had struggled to obtain.

I pointed out to my mother that although she was paying the taxes, she actually did not own the house/property. MomME, whose name was on the title, had passed away in 1972, and no change of ownership had been executed.

I sat down with my mother at the time and shared with her why she did not own her house and needed to become the actual owner of the property. She didn’t realize she was missing out on opportunities to grow and build equity with her property, as well as gain access to other community resources that could help her as a senior with the property.

Realizing what was occurring, she was ready to act. We discussed the process and worked together with others to untangle the title on her home.

Not alone

Today, about 20 years later, there are still hundreds of families in Greater Waco with “tangled titles;” they do not actually own the homes and property they think they do.

In reviewing the last 15 years’ worth of data in our Greater Waco community, Prosper Waco has found 413 homes have a tangled title issue. These 413 homes represent approximately $71 million dollars in value that is not being passed to the rightful heirs. As a result, these heirs are not able to utilize these financial resources for the benefit of their families.

And while we looked at the last 15 years of data to obtain a benchmark, there are many more families in our community beyond the last 15 years that are dealing with a tangled title, just as my mother was.

In early 2021, Prosper Waco reviewed the recently completed City of Waco Blueprint for Economic Security, which identified six key focus areas to ensure that all Wacoans could live with financial and economic security. These areas included Asset Building, Banking Access, Consumer Financial Protection, and Financial Education. Community stakeholders also added the areas of Small Business and Workforce Development.

In each area, I was tasked with developing strategies that would give our community the greatest lift. I first reviewed quantitative data showing the Black/White wealth gap, Asset Poverty Rate, Liquid Asset Poverty Rate, and qualitative data gained through insights from members of our low-to-moderate income (LMI) community. Next, I began to rehearse my own “I am Data” story to see what lever or levers could be pulled that would provide considerable impact to all Wacoans.

I realized from my own “I am Data” story that many of our neighbors in Black and Brown communities are sitting on wealth that they have yet to fully realize because of tangled titles.

As we approach Mother’s Day, my head is full of varying emotions as I think about my mother. My memories of my mother range from her cooking to her supportive nature to everyone in our family and extended family of friends and neighbors. But I also remember her own situation with a tangled title, and how we worked to help obtain full ownership of her home.

The single biggest purchase most Americans will make in their lifetime is the purchase of a home. It is also a source of “generational wealth” that stays within a family for years to come as it is passed down through inheritance. As the equity continues to grow it becomes a source of wealth for families to draw from for things such as college education and how it helps to relieve the burden of “how” to fulfill the “what” that is needed to continue to grow income and help eliminate the wealth gap.

Did you know?

  • 51.7% of Waco households are without sufficient liquid assets to subsist at the poverty level for 3 months in the absence of income.

  • 36.6% of Waco households are without sufficient net worth to subsist at the poverty level for 3 months in the absence of income.

  • In 2019, the median White household held $188,200 in wealth — 7.8 times more than Black households at $24,100.32

What we are doing

Prosper Waco worked in 2021 to lay the foundation for launch of a Clean Tangled Titles program. The project is going through an incubation period to research pathways to solutions for members of our Low-to-Moderate Income (LMI) community to ensure an accurate transfer of wealth.

In addition, we are researching solutions to ensure homes that need repair can receive it by sharing and collaborating with varying providers within our Greater Waco community.

Lastly, we are working with homeowners to ensure they have the financial tools to transfer wealth including their property to their heirs to ensure the entanglements end!

By ending these tangled title issues, we are empowering newly minted homeowners in our community with the ability to take matters into their own hands. As knowledgeable homeowners, they will choose for themselves how to ensure the financial and economic security for their families.

Helping them resolve tangled title issues gives them the freedom of choice to be able to

  • sell the property or

  • take out a home equity loan

  • get homeowner’s insurance or

  • readily qualify for city programs aimed at helping low-income households.

  • create legally passable generational wealth with further assistance with guiding residents to creating wills & trusts post title cleaning

  • reduce the overarching Black: White wealth gap within the CoW

  • risk deterioration of homes

  • help stabilize neighborhoods while improving quality

  • reduce homelessness

  • improve health by improving quality of housing thus reducing housing related illnesses

  • risk of foreclosure due to non-payment of property tax bills

  • improve educational outcomes through stable housing

I am grateful for the assistance of key partners in this work such as the following:

● Heart of Texas Council of Governments

● Neighborworks

● Habitat for Humanity

● Grassroots

● City of Waco

● Waco Foundation

● Baylor School of Law

Each of these partners recognize the importance of untangling titles and the benefits it adds to all within our Greater Waco community and, in particular, members of our LMI community.

Waco’s wealth disparity continues to grow, and many times people are unable to capture their full wealth through inheritances due to legal hindrances or lack of knowledge. The primary cause of the wealth divide stems from the income gap and the accumulation of assets such as homeownership.

Prosper Waco hopes to bridge the gap between lack of knowledge and action to help families grow their income, accumulate wealth-building assets, and provide the tips, tools, and techniques to properly manage them and successfully transfer them to their heirs.

While we are thankful for those who have joined us in this work — WE NEED YOU to succeed in this work! This is work that ensures that rising economic tide in our community truly lifts all boats in every area of our community.

Join us for a very special evening “under the stars” at Magnolia Table June 1 as we share more about this work and how you can be an important part of ensuring that tangled titles become a thing of the past for all in our community.

If you cannot join us but would like to support our work with tangled titles in our LMI communities through volunteering or tax-deductible contribution or to just learn more about this issue, please reach out to me at Dexter@prosperwaco.org or via phone 254.741.0081.

AN EVENING AT MAGNOLIA

Click here to get tickets!

Dexter Hall is chief of staff and senior specialist for financial security with Prosper Waco.