Success Stories: Shawn Turnley
With Whipped Cream and A Cherry on Top
That's how Shawn Turnley describes her life: like a dessert. In a single year, she was elected to the honor society at Delgado Community College, bought a home and a car, and became a landlord—all while working full time. So many plans were realized, so quickly, belying her struggle: from homeless shelter to home owner, recovering addict to full-time employee. Add to that the title of head cheerleader.
[Post-Katrina update: Shawn was able to collect insurance and pay off the mortgage on her damaged home. She has renovated the rental side and has a tenant. Though temporarily located in Texas, she's looking forward to renovating her side of the double shotgun and coming home to New Orleans.]
Shawn says that several years ago she prayed: "I'm a Christian. I know things take work. But I don't want to leave the shelter and rent. I want to be a homeowner." Her journey illustrates what helps: networks of people who share common goals, resources, and opportunities. Staff from five community-based organizations played key roles in the successes of this IDA graduate.
At the shelter in New Orleans, an old friend told her about a homeownership program. That one didn't work out, but it led Shawn to another homeownership training opportunity. There, she met Mike Furlow, a housing counselor with Acorn Housing, and Letisha Foley, a real estate agent who taught one of the homebuyer classes. She also heard about the Individual Development Account (IDA) Collaborative of Louisiana. Acorn Housing was one of more than 50 member organizations in the statewide collaborative. They were recruiting participants for their Assets for Independence-funded IDA initiative.
But Shawn had some ground to make up. She needed to enroll in Financial Fitness, the Collaborative's financial education component. More importantly, she had to leave a negative relationship and build savings.
Shawn feigns disbelief when asked if it was hard. "I don't understand how people could think it's so difficult. Take some classes for two or three months! Save $1,000! How could that be difficult?" she wonders aloud.
Shawn was fortunate. She didn't have serious credit issues, had never fallen into the hands of predatory lenders, and was already paying back old student loans so she could go back to school. Her will power meant she passed on buying clothes and spending on entertainment. "I got real focused. What's going to be important?" she asked herself. Shawn jokes that she took full advantage of New Orleans ' abundant offerings of free festivals and music.
Shawn saved about $50 a month but was not able to save tax refunds because she owed back taxes. She did, however, take advantage of free tax filing services coordinated by another group, the Central City Asset-Building Coalition, which is closely linked to the IDA Collaborative through common staffing and several member organizations.
At one point, Shawn was juggling Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings, a full-time job and school. She says, "There were times when I'd get on edge and nervous. I'd ask myself, is this really going to happen?"
Looking back, though, Shawn says the program requirements were not the greatest challenge. "They lay it out for you like a buffet. What are you going to eat from first? It does take discipline and commitment," she says. Rather, for Shawn, it was managing family relationships. "I had to come to see my position truly. I told them, 'I can't fool with you now because I have to do something. I believe in myself, even if you don't.'" The Collaborative did believe and so hired her part-time to build up other participants. "I told them, 'Been there, done that'" says Shawn. "If I could do it, you can do it."
Combining state and city housing funds with her IDA savings, in 2002, Shawn purchased a double on Dumaine Street, which begins in the fabled French Quarter. She gets income from a Section 8 renter in the second unit and thinks her tenants are likely candidates to follow in her path: plan and save up for their futures.
Two years after completing the program, Shawn says, "I look at money differently and handle it differently now. I would get excited about a credit card offer or an offer to refinance the house. Now I read the fine print." Shawn is still saving about the same amount per month to buy another property for investing, and for the inevitable "rainy day." Her sister has since started an IDA, as have some of her friends, encouraged by Shawn.
Next steps? Shawn cut back to 50 hours per week at work and is studying for her real estate license. She'll return to school to continue her business degree, while keeping her job at Touro Hospital . Her advice to others thinking about an IDA? "It's not about the money. It's about how you live."