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‘As for what we need?’ Housing, services and support, say those experiencing homelessness in Spokane

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Five years ago, Ken Vansant would take his grandkids the long way just to avoid “the bums.” He never expected to find himself in a similar situation.

“I would go an extra block around the corner because I didn’t want them to go by and see the bums,” Vansant said. “When I got here (at the Union Gospel Mission men’s shelter), you get to know these guys really had real jobs, like I did. They’re not bums.”

Many homeless people want to work. They want to pay taxes. They want to eat a burger at Red Robin.

They have hopes, dreams, wants and needs, just like a housed person. And they’re tired. Just ask Dixie Todd, who was homeless for more than 20 years.

“You go through a lot of filters of other people’s perceptions and misconceptions. And by the time you run through all that, it’s worn down your armor,” Todd said. “Your self confidence will wax and wane.

“As opportunities come and go you’ll be just too exhausted to take advantage of something. And so something goes by you, not because you weren’t aware of it, but because you just had nothing left to go do it.”

Even the term “homeless person” is misleading. It implies permanence. But many people fluctuate in and out of homelessness. One day they’re in an apartment, the next they’re on the street. One day they’re in the shelter with every belonging in a single suitcase, the next they’re moving into permanent housing.

And people experiencing homelessness are sharply cognizant of the barriers they face in obtaining housing, even when they’re unable to surmount them.

The city’s new mayor, Nadine Woodward, has pledged to embark on a new approach to homelessness that will begin with the formation of a work group. In anticipation of that community discussion, The Spokesman-Review reached out directly to people who have experienced homelessness in Spokane to hear what challenges they face and what solutions they have to offer.

Affordable housing

For every 100 apartments in Spokane County, fewer than two are available to rent.

The tight real estate market in Spokane has become increasingly evident as the city’s population continues to grow and its economy thrives. No population feels the impact of that economic success more than the homeless, who struggle to secure an apartment to rent and can wait months just to hear back from a prospective landlord.

They face roadblocks like a lack of identification, long waitlists for subsidized housing, and trouble making their way through the application process due to bad credit or other red flags in their personal history.

Kelly, who requested her last name be withheld to protect her identity, became homeless after leaving an abusive boyfriend. She soon found Jewels Helping Hands in the city-owned Cannon Street warming center, where she now lives and works.

Saving money for a new apartment is the long-term struggle Kelly faces, but the cost of even searching for an apartment can be prohibitive, she said.

“There’s no place to rent, period. And they want $100 for every application fee, and that’s ridiculous. I can’t afford that. And no, no one else can either,” Kelly said.

Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs hopes a package of housing-related laws, expected to be introduced in March, will make obtaining – and keeping – an apartment easier. It could include a standardized background check system so that applicants are not paying fees to multiple landlords, he said. Additionally, he hopes the city will implement an already-funded microloan program that would, at a low interest rate, help the financially disadvantaged pay a deposit on a new apartment.

As of fall 2019, the apartment vacancy rate in Spokane County stood at 1.8% overall, and 1% for both one- and two-bedroom apartments. Anything below 5% is generally considered a tight market, according to the University of Washington’s Center for Real Estate Research, which compiles the data.

A lack of affordable housing and evictions were among the most common reasons people cited as the cause of their homelessness, according to a survey included in the city’s annual Point in Time Count in 2019. A lack of a job, a lack of income or a family conflict also were frequently cited.

A past eviction is an immediate deal-breaker for many landlords. Many currently homeless people worry that when filling out an application, their monthslong or yearlong stay at the shelter will be a black mark on their housing record.

The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher waiting list is closed, and has been for quite some time. The Spokane Housing Authority’s website suggests checking back on the status in March. The process of obtaining a voucher can take a couple of years, according to Michelle Christie, a housing specialist with SNAP, which helps homeless individuals navigate their search for housing.

There are other income-based housing units available in Spokane to which an individual applies directly, but for the most part, those lists are also quite long and fluctuate between six months and two years, Christie said.

Over such a long wait time, it can be difficult for a person experiencing homelessness to track their application.

“If they’ve had a change in phone number or what have you, their name gets skipped off the top of that list,” Christie said.

Despite having a Section 8 voucher, Michelle King struggled to win approval to rent an apartment while temporarily sheltered by Family Promise. Her partner has to pay child support from a previous relationship, and her own credit rating is a nonstarter for landlords.

Their search was further complicated because King’s oldest daughter, 7, requires daily medication for seizures. A limited number of schools have full-time nurses capable of administering the medication, she found. King does not have a car and, given her daughter’s condition, wanted to live close to the school. After an arduous search, they landed at a place near Grant Elementary on the South Hill.

Her daughter’s condition is what led King to quit her old job, part of the reason she found herself homeless.

“That wasn’t a smart choice for me, but at the time I was so overwhelmed with all the stuff about my daughter that I just needed to be by her side. We don’t have alcohol or drug abuse problems. We have a really good family dynamic,” King said.

King’s 4-year-old son has been in the shelter system essentially his entire life, and still is learning how to adapt to life in a stable home after years of bouncing between shelters and churches for short stays.

“He keeps asking what church we’re going to now,” King said.

Kristin Juarez was working when she became homeless, but could no longer make ends meet. A new property manager was less flexible, cracking down on late rent payments, and it sparked a “downward spiral” that included temporary stays in motels and campsites at state parks.

When Juarez arrived at the Open Doors shelter, “I didn’t really know what I needed to be doing,” she said. Her long to-do list included meeting with a case manager on a weekly basis and obtaining a Section 8 voucher.

In fact, the life of a homeless person can be excruciatingly busy.

As a single mother of three children, Juarez still was putting herself through school and raising her children, but had the additional burdens of applying for assistance. She filled out logs to prove to Family Promise that she was actively looking for a home.

“It was a lot,” she said.

Juarez found five suitable apartments, but four of them were out of her price range. The one she lives in now was only within her budget because the landlord agreed to lower the advertised rent by $9 per month.

“I searched for six months before I was able to even find anything,” Juarez said.

When Juarez left Spokane, she was paying $650 for a two-bedroom apartment. Two years later, that same apartment is $815. The place she has now is $990 per month, she said.

In the fall of 2019, the average rent for an apartment in Spokane County was $1,019 per month, according to the University of Washington survey. That’s an increase of 57% from 2009, when the average rent here was $651.

Chris Keyser has been homeless since his house in Coeur d’Alene burned down in 2014. After several years on the street in Idaho, Keyser thought he’d have better luck in Spokane, but ended up at the House of Charity, where he is now a resident and employee. Keyser is one of many who believe the lack of affordable housing is the most significant barrier to the homeless.

“When I came over here I knew I’d be homeless for a little while. I expected that. But I didn’t expect it to turn into such a difficult thing to grab and get ahold of (housing),” Keyser said.

Michael Radvanyi has been homeless for about six weeks since losing his apartment, and has been staying at the city’s warming center on South Cannon Street. He’s optimistic because his Social Security payments just kicked in, but it’s been hard to locate a new place for less than $500 a month.

He’s hoping to get back into a place with his old landlord again.

“If this landlord doesn’t work out, I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Radvanyi said.

Transportation

While many people experiencing homelessness laud Spokane for the wide variety of social services it hosts – often a reason why they landed here – they say it’s a struggle to navigate the complex network of providers without easy access to transportation.

The Spokane Resource Center, for example, offers housing assistance, job training and other resources. But it’s 2 1/2 miles away from the city’s warming center on Cannon Street.

Todd, who is now housed but spent more than 20 years homeless in Spokane, said if she could build the system from the ground up she would centralize providers, not have them “at the corners of the earth.”

“Transportation is what holds people back. If you can’t get to appointments, you can’t get out of the rut,” Todd said.

She suggested a small, free bus that runs in a loop between social service providers on a regular schedule to allow people to plan for – and actually make – their appointments. Some providers refuse to continue services to people who fail to appear for an appointment.

“If this bus would pick people up and take them to these places on a regular schedule, then these programs that the politicians and the nonprofits put together would be accessible,” Todd said.

The city applied for and received a 12-passenger van from the Spokane Transit Authority for just that purpose, according to Community, Housing and Human Services Director Tim Sigler. The problem has been finding a way to pay for its operation, including the cost of a driver, gas and insurance. The department is exploring grant opportunities and looking for philanthropic help.

“If we could do that, our plan is to have several dropoff and pick-up sites that we know are going to be most utilized,” Sigler said. “It’s just a matter of finding the funding.”

The Spokane City Council authorized $30,000 for free bus passes to assist the homeless in 2019, and there are still bus passes for 2020. Of that, $5,000 of passes went to Community Court and $25,000 was distributed to homeless service providers. Additionally, each of the agencies that the city funds has its own budget for bus passes, Sigler said.

But those who are camping or are on the streets don’t have access to the bus passes and are struggling the most to get to appointments, he said.

It’s not easy to get a bus pass, and the justifications for getting one are often restricted by providers, according to several people experiencing homelessness.

When the bus isn’t available, the only option is to walk.

Keyser entered Catholic Charities in respite care due to severe blisters on his feet – not a position he thought he’d be in at 60 years old.

“I went to the hospital and they said, ‘Listen, you’ve got to get off your feet.’ They were waterlogged and everything. I had to get off my feet and dry them out,” Keyser said. “What was there to do but walk around and try to find resources? I would get so tired of it.”

Identification

Jose Chavez, a patron at the Cannon Street warming center, expects the entire process of finding an apartment to take about eight months. As with many other homeless people, the first major barrier to rehousing Chavez faces is obtaining a valid form of identification.

When you’re homeless it’s easy to lose your identification, or just as likely, it will be stolen, Chavez said. Formerly in the construction industry in Montana, Chavez was laid off, starting a “snowball effect.” En route to California, Chavez ran out of money and landed in Spokane.

Just getting to the licensing office was a small miracle, given Chavez’s lack of access to transportation. Once there, he learned he needed to list a permanent address. Unsheltered at the time, his efforts stalled. Now, Chavez has listed the Cannon Street facility as his address and is eagerly awaiting a new ID in the mail.

“After I get my license, then I have to try housing. Then you gotta wait two to three months just for that, for you to get accepted and all that stuff, and then you’ve got to start looking, and that takes a while,” Chavez said.

Food

Staying nourished can be a constant struggle for people experiencing homelessness. Crystal Julian receives Social Security, but her income quickly dissipated every month when she was homeless.

“A lot of my check was going out to eat, I couldn’t stomach the foods that were at the churches,” Julian said.

Woodward made addressing homelessness the central issue of her successful campaign for mayor in 2019, and her calls for a “tough love” approach resonated with her supporters. In addition to offering a “jail or treatment” approach, Woodward also criticized low-barrier shelters.

“We can no longer continue to warehouse people and hand out sandwiches,” Woodward said last year.

But some experiencing homelessness bristle at the assertion that handouts enable the homeless to continue living such a lifestyle.

“A peanut butter and jelly sandwich is still a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It still provides a quick, nutritious meal,” Todd said. “Why are you giving it to your kids if it’s such a bad thing?”

When he was unsheltered, Keyser absolutely wanted a sandwich, and it didn’t deter his search for housing – it enabled it.

“I didn’t want to go out searching for resources hungry,” Keyser said. “Giving someone a sandwich or a bowl of soup, I think that’s a great idea. I don’t think it enables them.”

Shelter

Before moving to Washington last year, King couldn’t live with Justin, her partner of eight years, at the homeless shelter in Montana because they were not legally married at the time.

Homelessness can be especially straining on couples with or without children because shelters often are segregated by gender.

Check-in at the shelter Chavez stayed in was two hours before the shelter his ex-wife stayed in, he said.

“You’re inat 6 (p.m.) worrying about what your wife’s doing for two hours,” Chavez said. Homelessness “is already stressful for a relationship.”

Chavez is worried that Jewels Helping Hands’ temporary contract with the city to operate the shelter on Cannon Street will expire before he is able to find housing.

“When they take this place, it’s going to suck for all of us to go back in the trees and sleep with the roaches,” Chavez said.

Sigler said the city is continuing to collaborate with regional partners, including Spokane County and Spokane Valley, to secure the funding necessary to open a continuous-stay emergency shelter for single adults later this year.

“That’s going to be our biggest need,” Sigler said. “There is a plan, we just have to find that additional funding.”

Business

People experiencing homelessness are acutely aware of the contempt some businesses hold for them, in ways that manifest themselves as policies against bathroom use for nonpaying customers and the use of high-pitched sound machines to deter loitering.

Spokane can be judgmental, Talbert said.

“It’s kind of like ‘Bring your money, but don’t you stay,’ ” Talbert said.

Clifford Moore, who has been homeless on and off for two years and now works at Jewels Helping Hands, suggested that business owners pop their heads into the warming center and get to know the patrons personally.

“Unfortunately, a lot of these local business owners deal with the homeless problem. And that tends to put a spotlight on … the very few who are actually causing the problems,” Moore said. “Right now they see what a few people do and put us all in the same category.”

Moore, 47, suggested the city consider tax incentives for businesses that hire homeless people.

Another hangup for the homeless, Moore said, is the assumption that businesses won’t hire people with felony records. That’s not always the case, he said.

But Union Gospel Mission resident Christopher Hovdesven worried that, as he watches the news and sees companies bringing hundreds of jobs into Spokane, they aren’t open to a person like him.

“Are they going to be hiring people like us who are felons? What population are they really providing these jobs for?” Hovdesven asked. For some employers, “I don’t care if you come out with a master’s degree and you’ve been clean and sober and haven’t committed a crime in 20 years, they will not hire a felon.”

Perception/judgment

What also frustrates the homeless is how they are perceived by the housed.

Not all homeless people are addicts. Not all struggle with mental health issues. And, most of all, they aren’t lazy and want to work.

“There’s a lot of people that want to change and just don’t have that opportunity. A lot of these people are compassionate, they do care,” Kelly said.

Several people with experience being homeless highlighted the value of a smile, a wave, or a “Hi, how are you?”

“We want help, we need help, we just need people to treat us better,” said Kelly, who has gotten sober since coming to Jewels about four months ago. “Say ‘Hi,’ you know? If someone’s hungry, give him some food.”

People who haven’t had much contact with the homeless can be fearful, Talbert said.

“They don’t understand that we’re not out to go, ‘Oh, I want to kill her tonight,’ or ‘Look at the ring she’s wearing, I’ll cut her finger off,’ ” Talbert said.

Michael Burke said he has 18 months until he can collect his full Social Security. In the meantime, he wants to work.

“At my age. It’s hard to find work,” Burke said.

Burke worked at a local home improvement store, but because his employer wouldn’t offer him full-time hours, he lived in a tent for three years.

“You don’t let them know you’re homeless,” Burke said. “That’s a hard stigma to get away with.”

Services and treatment

After 13 months in jail, Vansant was supposed to be enrolled in a re-entry program. He never found it.

Vansant entered treatment with Frontier Behavioral Health for his mental health issues that stem from childhood, leading him to “crash and burn” despite a successful career and strong work ethic.

Vansant is stuck in a cycle – he can’t hold a job and make an income until he addresses his mental health. But he can’t find an apartment until he has an income. Thus, he is living at the men’s shelter at Union Gospel Mission.

“I finally came to the conclusion that what the problem is, I need to deal with it now. And now I can go out and be a productive person in society,” Vansant said.

Hovdesven was an EMT for about six years in Seattle, but has lived with anxiety and depression, as well as addiction. He’s been chronically homeless since 2006. He now lives at Union Gospel Mission and receives treatment at American Behavioral Health Systems.

A safe place is critical for the homeless, Hovdesven said, even if it’s only a day room.

“It’s really nice to have that cushion … and be inspired by people around you that want to lift you up,” Hovdesven said.

“As for what we need? We need places that will help with the mental health issues,” Burke said.

There are services in Spokane for emergency mental health crises operated by community organizations as well as in partnerships with law enforcement agencies. Access to services for non-emergent mental health care, however, remains a challenge for some.

Austin Luhn, 25, remembers having sex education in high school. But there was no drug and alcohol education. There was no mental health education, he said. Such classes would give people “an opportunity at a younger age to address mental health issues that they have,” Luhn suggested.

Luhn began abusing substances during his senior year of high school, and it wasn’t until he checked into Union Gospel Mission three months ago that he delved into his past.

“Had I had the ability in high school to have some sort of deeper counseling and education on what mental health actually is and on top of that, drugs and addiction, you know, I might not be here today,” Luhn said.

Sigler said the city’s next major investment in combating homelessness should be in behavioral health treatment. When someone is ready to get help, even a two-week wait can “completely derail” their recovery, he said.

“Would really like to see bigger investments in behavioral health, because we know that’s a huge, huge barrier,” Sigler said.

Many who experience homelessness see the need for more addiction treatment and behavioral health services.

Eastern Washington 211 markets itself as a one-stop directory for social services and resources. Call takers are available from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., but the service responds to text messages 24/7. Still, some providers and individuals experiencing homelessness are skeptical that its information is up to date.

Talbert wishes there was a comprehensive list of all the resources available in the area. Without it, homeless people are left to run to one service provider to see what it offers, then to others to see what they offer. In between, transportation is a challenge. At one point, Talbert broke her foot, and “it was like, ‘Oh, my god.’ ”

“A lot of times, a program will pop up and you have to hear about it by word of mouth,” Talbert said.

Juarez benefited, in a way, from her experience with homelessness as a child, on and off for about three years while her mother navigated an abusive relationship with her father.

“A lot of people that I ran into when I was homeless just lacked education on the resources,” she said.

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Inside the Highly Profitable and Secretive World of Payday Lenders

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Illustration by Sarah Maxwell, Folio Art

When Bridget Davis got started in the family’s payday lending business in 1996, there was just one Check ’n Go store in Cincinnati. She says she did it all: customer service, banking duties, even painting walls.

The company had been established two years earlier by her husband, Jared Davis, and was growing rapidly. There were 100 Check ’n Go locations by 1997, when Jared and Bridget (née Byrne) married and traveled the country together looking for more locations to open storefront outlets. They launched another 400 stores in 1998, mostly in strip malls and abandoned gas stations in low-income minority neighborhoods where the payday lending target market abounds. Bridget drove the supply truck and helped select locations and design the store layouts.

But Jared soon fired his wife for committing what may be the ultimate sin in the payday lending business: She forgave a customer’s debt. “A young woman came to pay her $20 interest payment,” Bridget wrote in court documents last year during divorce proceedings from Jared. “I pulled her file, calculated that she had already paid $320 to date on a principle [sic] loan of $100. I told her she was paid in full. [Jared] fired me, stating, ‘We are here to make money, not help customers manage theirs. If you can’t do that, you can’t work here.’ ”

Photograph by Brittany Dexter

It’s a business philosophy that pays well, especially if you’re charging fees and interest rates of 400 percent that can more than triple the amount of the loan in just five months—the typical time most payday borrowers need to repay their debt, says the Pew Charitable Trusts, a nonprofit organization focused on public policy. Cincinnati-based Check ’n Go now operates more than 1,100 locations in 25 states as well as an internet lending service with 24/7 access from the comfort of your own home, according to its website. Since its founding, the company has conducted more than 50 million transactions.

What the website doesn’t say is that many, if not most, of those transactions were for small loans of $50 to $500 to working people trying to scrape by and pay their bills. In most states—including Ohio, until it reformed its payday lending laws in 2019—borrowers typically fork over more than one-third of their paycheck to meet the deadline for repayment, usually in two weeks. To help guarantee repayment, borrowers turn over access to their checking account or deposit a check with the lender. In states that don’t offer protection, customers go back again and again to borrow more money from the same payday lender, typically up to 10 times, driving themselves into a debt trap that can lead to bankruptcy.

Jared and Bridget Davis are embroiled in a nasty court battle related to his 2019 divorce filing in Hamilton County Domestic Relations Court. Thousands of pages of filings and 433 docket entries by April 26 offer the public a rare glimpse into the business operations of Check ’n Go, one of Cincinnati’s largest privately-owned companies, as well as personal lifestyles funded by payday lending.

The company cleared $77 million in profit in 2018, a figure that dipped the following year to $55 million, according to an audit by Deloitte. That drop in revenue may have something to do with the payday lending reform laws and interest rate caps passed recently in Ohio as well as a growing number of other states.


The day-to-day business transactions that provide such profit are a depressing window into how those who live on the edge of financial security are often stuck with few options for improving their situations. If a borrower doesn’t repay or refinance his or her original loan, a lender like Check ’n Go deposits the guarantee check and lets it bounce, causing the borrower to incur charges for the bounced check and eventually lose his or her checking account, says Nick DiNardo, an attorney for the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati. After two missed payments, payday lenders usually turn over the debt to a collection agency. If the collection agency fails to collect the full amount of the original loan as well as all fees and interest, it goes to court to garnish the borrower’s wages.

That devastating experience is all too familiar to Anthony Smith, a 60-year-old Wyoming resident who says he was laid off from several management positions over a 20-year period. He turned to payday lenders as his credit rating dropped and soon found himself caught in a debt trap that took him years to escape.

Two things happened in 2019, Smith says, that turned around his financial fortunes. First, he found a stable manufacturing job with the Formica Company locally, and then he took his mother’s advice and opened a credit union account. GE Credit Union not only gave him a reasonable loan to pay off his $2,500 debt but also issued him his first credit card in a decade. “I had been a member [of the credit union] for just two months, and I had a credit rating of 520. Can you imagine?” he says. Smith says he is now debt-free for the first time in 10 years.

Consumer advocates say Check ’n Go is one of the biggest payday lending operations in the nation. But knowing its exact ranking is difficult because most payday lending companies, including Check ’n Go and its parent company CNG Holdings, are privately held and reluctant to disclose their finances.

Brothers Jared and David Davis own the majority of the company’s privately held stock. David bought into the company in 1995, but CNG got its game-changing infusion of capital from the brothers’ father, Allen Davis, who retired as CEO of then-Provident Bank in 1998. Allen sold off $37 million in stock options and essentially became CNG’s bank and consultant.

By 2005, however, the sons were part of a public court battle against their father. Allen accused Jared and David of treating his millions in CNG stock as compensation instead of a transfer from his ex-wife (and the brothers’ mother), sticking him with a $13 million tax bill. In turn, the brothers accused Allen of putting his mistress and his yacht captain on the company payroll, taking $1.2 million in fees without board approval, and leading the company into ventures that lost Check ’n Go a lot of money. Several years of legal fighting later, the IRS was still demanding its $13 million. CNG officials did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Jared and David split $22 million in profit from CNG in 2018 and, according to the Deloitte audit, CNG’s balance sheet showed another $42 million that could be split between the two brothers in 2019. Jared, however, elected not to receive his $21 million distribution “in order to create this artificial financial crisis and shelter millions of dollars from an equitable split between us,” according to Bridget’s divorce filing.

Worse, she claims, Jared said they would be responsible for paying taxes out of their personal accounts rather than from CNG’s company earnings, making her personally responsible for half of the $5.5 million in taxes for 2019. She believes it wasn’t happenstance that $5.5 million was wired to Jared’s private bank account in December of that same year. Bridget has refused to sign the joint tax return, and Jared filed a complaint with the court saying a late tax filing would cost them $1 million in penalties and missed tax opportunities.

“For the duration of our marriage and to the present, Jared has full and complete control of all money paid to us from various investments we have made in addition to our main source of income, CNG,” Bridget wrote in her motion. She suspects that Jared, without her knowledge or consent, plowed the money for their taxes and from other sources of income into Black Diamond Group, the fund that invests in the Agave & Rye restaurant chain. Beyond the original restaurant opened in Covington in 2018, “they have opened four other locations in one year,” she wrote, including Louisville and Lexington. (The ninth location opened in Hamilton this spring.) Agave & Rye’s website touts its Mexican fare as “a chef-inspired take on the standard taco, elevating this simple food into something epic!”

In his response, Jared wrote, “We have very limited regular sources of income.” He says he isn’t receiving any additional distributions from CNG, the couple’s primary source of income, “and this is not within my control. The company has declared that we would not make any further distributions in 2020 given economic circumstances. This decision is based on a formula and is not discretionary.” Agave & Rye helped produce $645,000 in income for Black Diamond in 2020 but has paid out $890,000 in loans, he says. Through August 31, 2020, he wrote, the couple’s “expenses have exceeded income from all sources.”


The divorce case filings start slinging mud when the couple accuses each other of breaking up their 22-year marriage and finding new partners. Jared claims Bridget began an affair during their marriage with Brian Duncan, a contractor she employed through her house flipping business. Bridget, he says, paid Duncan’s company $75,000 in 2018 as well as giving him a personal gift of $70,000 that same year. Jared says she also bought Duncan at least one car and purchased a house for him near hers on Shawnee Run Road for $289,000, then loaned money to Duncan. Jared says Duncan has been late in repaying the note.

While Bridget says Duncan has been drug-free for several years, he has a rap sheet with Hamilton County courts from 2000 to 2017 that runs five pages long. It lists a half-dozen counts of drug abuse and drug possession, including heroin and possession of illegal drug paraphernalia; assaulting a police officer; stealing a Taser from a police officer; criminal damaging while being treated at UC Health; more than a dozen speeding and traffic violations; a half-dozen counts of driving with a suspended license; receiving stolen property; twice fleeing and resisting arrest; three counts of theft; two counts of forgery; and one count for passing bad checks.

Bridget has fired back that Jared not only is hiding his money from her but spending it lavishly on vacations, resorts, and high-end restaurants with his new girlfriend, Susanne Warner. Bridget says Jared gifted Warner with $40,000 without Bridget’s knowledge, then declared it on their joint tax return as a “contribution.” Bridget’s court filings include photocopies of social media posts of Jared and Warner globetrotting from summer 2019 to summer 2020: vacation at Beaver Creek Village in Avon, Colorado; cocktails at High Cotton in Charleston, South Carolina, and dinner at Melvyn’s Restaurant and Lounge in Palm Springs, California; getaways at resorts in Nashville and at a lakefront rental on Norris Lake ($600 per night); in the Bahamas at a Musha Cay private residence ($57,000 per night), at South Beach in Miami, and at a private beach at Fisher Island; in Mexico at Cabo San Lucas; in the U.S. Virgin Islands at Magen’s Bay and on a private yacht ($4,500 per night); in California at Desert Hot Springs, the Ritz-Carlton in Rancho Mirage, and Montage at Laguna Beach; and in the Bahamas at South Cottage ($2,175 per night).

For her part, Bridget has gone through some of the top lawyers in town faster than President Trump during an impeachment—six in all, two of whom she’s sued for malpractice. She sent four binders of evidence to the Ohio Supreme Court, asking for the recusal of Hamilton County Judge Amy Searcy and claiming Searcy was biased because of campaign donations from Jared and his companies. Rather than deal with the list of questions sent to her by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, Searcy stepped down. Two other judges have since stepped into the fray, and in March Bridget filed for a change of venue outside of Hamilton County, arguing she can’t get a fair trial in her hometown. At press time, a trial date had been set for June 28 in Hamilton County.

The poor-mouthing in the divorce case has reached heights of comic absurdity. Jared claims he’s “illiquid” because he didn’t get his distribution from CNG in 2019. Bridget has received debt collection notices for the nearly $21,000 owed on her American Express card and a $735 bill from Jewish Hospital. There’s no sign yet that anyone is coming to repossess her Porsche, which according to her filings has a $5,000 monthly payment. Each party has received $25,000 a month in living expenses, an amount later reduced to $15,000 under a temporary legal agreement while the divorce case is being sorted out. Court filings show that Jared’s net worth is almost $206 million and Bridget’s is $22.5 million.


In the early 1990s, Allen Davis was raising eyebrows at Provident Bank (later bought by National City), and not only because of his very unbanker-like look of beard, ponytail, and casual golf wear. He was leading the company into questionable subprime home loans for people with bad credit and a frequent-shopper program for merchants, though the bank’s charter barred him from getting involved in full-blown predatory lending practices. With guidance and funding from his father, Jared, at age 26, launched Check ’n Go in 1994 and became a pioneer in the payday lending industry. Jared and his family saw there were millions of Americans who didn’t have checking or savings accounts (“unbanked”) or an adequate credit rating (“underbanked”) but still needed loans to meet their everyday expenses. What those potential customers did have was a steady paycheck.

Conventional banks share a big part of the blame for the nation’s army of unbanked borrowers by imposing checking account fees and onerous penalties for bounced checks. In 2019, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation estimated there were 7.1 million U.S. households without a checking or savings account.

The Davises launched Check ’n Go on the pretext that it would “fill the gap” for people who occasionally needed to borrow money in a hurry—a service for those who couldn’t get a loan any other way. But consumer advocates say the real business model for payday lending isn’t a service at all. The majority of the industry’s revenue comes from repeat business by customers trapped in debt, not from borrowers looking for a quick, one-time fix for their financial troubles.

Ohio’s payday lending lobbyists got a strong hold on the state legislature in the late 1990s, and by 2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray could rightfully claim in a campaign ad that “Ohio’s [payday lending] laws are now the worst in the nation. Things have gotten so bad that it is legal to charge 594 percent interest on loans.” His statement was based on a 2014 study by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The frustration for consumer advocates was that Ohioans had been trying to reform those laws since 2008, when voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative placing a 28 percent cap on the interest of payday loans. But—surprise!—lenders simply registered as mortgage brokers, which enabled them to charge unlimited fees.

The Davis family and five other payday lending companies controlled 90 percent of the market back then, an express gravy train ripping through the poorest communities in Ohio. The predatory feeding frenzy, especially in Ohio’s hard-hit Rust Belt communities, prompted a 2017 column at The Daily Beast titled, “America’s Worst Subprime Lender: Jared Davis vs. Allan Jones?” (Jones is founder and CEO of Tennessee-based Check Into Cash.) In 2016 and 2017, consumer advocates mustered their forces again, and this time they weren’t allowing for loopholes. The Pew Charitable Trusts joined efforts with bipartisan lawmakers and Ohioans for Payday Loan Reform, a statewide coalition of faith, business, local government, and nonprofit organizations. Consumer advocates found a legislative champion in State Rep. Kyle Koehler, a Republican from Springfield.

It no doubt helped reform efforts that former Ohio Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger resigned in spring 2018 amid an FBI investigation into his cozy relationship with payday lenders. Rosenberger had taken frequent overseas trips—to destinations including France, Italy, Israel, and China—in the company of payday lending lobbyists. In April 2019, Ohio’s new lending law took effect and, since then, has been called a national model for payday lending reform that balances protections for borrowers, profits for lenders, and access to credit for the poor, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. New prices in Ohio are three to four times lower for payday loans than before the law. Borrowers now have up to three months to repay their loans with no more than 6 percent of their paycheck. Pew estimates that the cost of borrowing $400 for three months dropped from $450 to $109, saving Ohioans at least $75 million a year. And despite claims that the reforms would eliminate access to credit, lenders currently operate in communities across the state and online. “The bipartisan success shows that if you set fair rules and enforce them, lenders play by them and there’s widespread access to credit,” says Gabe Kravitz, a consumer finance officer at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Other states like Virginia, Kansas, and Michigan are following Ohio’s lead, Kravitz says. Some states, such as Nebraska, have even capped annual interest on payday loans. As a result, Pew researchers have seen a reduction in the number of storefront lending op­erations across the country. Even better, Kravitz says, there’s no evidence that borrowers are turning instead to online payday lending operations.

Cincinnati is one of five cities chosen for a grant to replicate the success of Boston Builds Credit, an ambitious effort that city launched in 2017 to provide credit counseling in poor and minority communities by training specialists at existing social service agencies. The program also encourages consumer partnerships with credit unions, banks, and insurance companies to offer small, manageable loans that can help the unbanked and underbanked improve their credit ratings. “Right now, local organizations are all kind of working in silos on the problem in Cincinnati,” says Todd Moore of the nonprofit credit counseling agency Trinity Debt Relief. Moore, who applied for the Boston grant, says he’s looking for an agency like United Way or Strive Cincinnati to lead the effort here.

Anthony Smith is thankful that he’s escaped the downward spiral of his payday loans, especially during the pandemic’s economic turmoil. “I’m blessed for every day I can get paid and have a job during these difficult times, just to be able to pay my bills and meet my responsibilities,” he says. “I’ve always kept a job, but until now I’ve had crappy credit. That doesn’t mean I’m a bad guy.”

Can others worth millions of dollars say the same?

Inside the Highly Profitable and Secretive World of Payday Lenders Source link Inside the Highly Profitable and Secretive World of Payday Lenders



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What’s Questionable Credit and Can I Get a Car Loan With It?

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Questionable’s definition means that something’s quality is up for debate. If a lender says that your credit score is questionable, it’s likely that they mean it’s poor, or at the very least, they’re hesitant to approve you for vehicle financing. Here’s what most lenders consider questionable credit, and what auto loan options you may have.

Questionable Credit and Auto Lenders

Many auto lenders may consider questionable credit as a borrower with a credit score below 660. The credit score tiers as sorted by Experian the national credit bureau, are:

  • Super prime: 850 to 781
  • Prime: 780 to 661
  • Nonprime: 660 to 601
  • Subprime: 600 to 501
  • Deep subprime: 500 to 300

The nonprime credit tiers and below is when you start to get into bad credit territory and may struggle to meet the credit score requirements of traditional auto lenders.

This is because lenders are looking at your creditworthiness – your perceived ability to repay loans based on the information in your credit reports. Besides your actual credit score, there may be situations where the items in your credit reports are what’s making a lender question whether you’re a good candidate for an auto loan. These can include:

  • A past or active bankruptcy
  • A past or recent vehicle repossession
  • Recent missed/late payments
  • High credit card balances
  • No credit history

There are ways to get into an auto loan with questionable credit. Your options can change depending on what’s making your credit history questionable, though.

Questionable Credit Auto Loans

If your credit score is less than stellar, it may be time to look at these two lending options:

  • What Is Questionable Credit and Can I Get a Car Loan With It?Subprime financing – Done through special finance dealerships by third-party subprime lenders. These lenders can often assist with many unique credit situations, provided you can meet their requirements. A great option for new borrowers with thin files, situational bad credit, or consumers with older negative marks.
  • In-house financing – May not require a credit check, and is done through buy here pay here (BHPH) dealers. Typically, your income and down payment amount are the most important parts of eligibility. Auto loans without a credit check may not allow for credit repair and may come with a higher-than-average interest rate.

Both of these car loan options are typically available to borrowers with credit challenges. However, if you have more recent, serious delinquencies on your credit reports, a BHPH dealer may be for you. Most traditional and subprime lenders typically don’t approve financing for borrowers with a dismissed bankruptcy, a repossession less than a year old, or borrowers with multiple, recent missed/late payments.

Requirements of Bad Credit Car Loans

In many cases, your income and down payment size are the biggest factors in your overall eligibility for bad credit auto loans. Expect to need:

  • 30 days of recent computer-generated check stubs to prove you have around $1,500 to $2,500 of monthly gross income. Borrowers without W-2 income may need two to three years of professionally prepared tax returns.
  • A down payment of at least $1,000 or 10% of the vehicle’s selling price. BHPH dealers may require up to 20% of the car’s selling price.
  • Proof of residency in the form of a recent utility bill in your name.
  • Proof of a working phone (no prepaid phones), proven with a recent phone bill in your name.
  • A list of five to eight personal references with name, phone number, and address.
  • Valid driver’s license with the correct address, can’t be revoked, expired, or suspended.

Depending on your individual situation, you may need fewer or more items to apply for a bad credit auto loan. However, preparing these documents before you head to a dealership can speed up the process!

Ready to Get on the Road?

With questionable credit, finding a dealership that’s able to assist you with an auto loan is easier said than done. Here at Auto Credit Express, we want to get that done for you with our coast-to-coast network of special finance dealerships.

Complete our free auto loan request form and we’ll get right to work looking for a dealer in your local area that can assist with many tough credit situations.

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Entrepreneur Tae Lee Finds Her Fortune

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By Jasmine Shaw
For The Birmingham Times

Birmingham native Tae Lee had plans last year to visit the continent of Africa, the South American country of Columbia, and the U.S. state of Texas.

“I was going to stay in each place for like four to six weeks, and then COVID-19 happened,” she said. “So, I just was like, ‘You know what, I’m just gonna go to Mexico and stay for six months.’”

Once home from Playa Del Carmen, located on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, the 33-year-old entrepreneur put the final touches on “Game of Fortune: Win in Wealth or Lose in Debt,” a financial literacy card game for ages 10 and up.

“We created ‘Game of Fortune’ because we realized there was a gap in learning the fundamentals of money,” said Lee. “We go through life not knowing anything about money and then—‘Bam!’—real life hits. Credit, debt, and bills come at us quick!”

Lee believes the game “gives players a glimpse of real life” by using everyday scenarios to teach them how to make wiser financial decisions without having to waste their own money.

“I feel like [financial literacy] can be learned in ways other than somebody standing up and preaching it to you over and over again,” she said. “You can learn it in ways that are considered fun, as well.”

Which is why “we want the schools to buy it, so we can give students a fun way to learn about financial literacy,” she added.

Lee, also called the “Money Maximizer,” is an international best-selling financial author, speaker, coach, and trainer who is known for her financial literacy books, including “Never Go Broke (NGB): An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Money and Freedom” and the “NGB Money Success Planner High School Edition.” The Birmingham-based financial guru focuses on creating diverse streams of income in the tax, real estate, insurance, and finance industries.

For Lee, it’s about building generational wealth, not debt.

Indispensable Lessons

Lee got her first glance at entrepreneurial life as a child watching her mother, Valeria Robinson, run her commercial cleaning company, V’s Cleaning. Robinson retired in 2019.

“My grandmother had a cleaning service, too,” said Lee. “So, even though I didn’t start out as an entrepreneur, watching my mom and grandma do it taught me a lot.”

Lee grew up in Birmingham and attended Riley Elementary School, Midfield Middle School, and Huffman High School. She then went on to Jacksonville State University, in Jacksonville, Alabama, where she earned bachelor’s degree in physical education. She struggled to find a career in her field and became overwhelmed by student loans.

“My credit and stuff didn’t get bad until after college,” she said. “I was going through school and taking money, but nobody told me, ‘Oh, you’re gonna have to pay all of this back.’”

Before embarking on her extensive career in money management, Lee had not learned the indispensable lessons that she now shares with clients.

“‘Don’t have bad credit.’ That’s all I learned,” she remembers. “Financial literacy just wasn’t taught much. I learned the majority of my lessons as I aged.”

In an effort to ward off collection calls and raise her credit score, Lee researched tactics to strategically eliminate her debt.

“I knew I had to pay bills on time, and I couldn’t be late with payments,” she said.

Lee eventually began helping friends revamp their finances and opened NGB Inc. in 2017 to share fun, educational methods to help her clients build solid financial foundations.

“People were always coming to me like, ‘How do I invest in this?’ and ‘How do I do that?’ So, I said to myself, ‘You know what, people should be paying to pick your brain.’”

Legacy Building

While Lee enjoyed watching her clients reach milestones, like buying a new car with cash or making their first stock market investment, she was also designing “Game of Fortune” to teach the value of legacy building.

“The game gives players the knowledge to build generational wealth, not generational debt,” she said. “It gives you a glimpse of life, money, and what can truly happen if you mismanage your coins.”

Using index cards to create her first “Game of Fortune” sample deck, Lee filled each card with pertinent terms related to debt elimination and credit and wealth building. She then called on a few friends to help her work through the kinks.

Three of her good friends—Barbara Bratton, Daña Brown, and Sha Cannon—were just a few of the people that gave feedback on the sample deck.

“From there I met with Brandon Brooks, [owner of the Birmingham-based Brooks Realty Investments LLC], and four other financial advisors to fine-tune the definitions and game logistics,” Lee said.

Though Lee was unable to land a job in physical education after graduating from college, she now sees her career with NGB Inc. as life’s unexpected opportunity to teach on her own terms.

“Bartending and waitressing taught me that working for someone else was not for me,” she replied. “In order to get the life I always wanted, I had to create my own business.”

In her entrepreneurial pursuits, Lee strives to be an open-minded leader who embraces the need for flexibility.

“COVID-19 has shown me that in entrepreneurship you have to maneuver,” she said. “When life changes, sometimes your business will, too. You may have to change the path, but your ending goal can be the same.”

“Game of Fortune: Win in Wealth or Lose in Debt” is available and sold only on the “Game of Fortune” website: gameoffortune.money. To learn more about Tae Lee and Never Go Broke Inc., visit taelee.money and nevergobroke.money or email tae@taelee.money; you also can follow her on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/nevergobrokeinc) and Instagram (@nevergobrokeinc).

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