Regentrification: Restoring More than Just Houses

How do you know when a tenant is lying? Their lips are moving.

Being a landlord has made me a bit jaded. Many of the neighborhoods where I own and manage rental properties are not what I’d call “apple pie Americana”. On a daily basis I come in contact with a host of shifty, shady characters. My experiences have often made me question whether human nature is innately good. And I’m sad in those moments when I realize my faith in humanity has been weakened.

But then there are days like today.

Until recently, my wife was a teacher at Milton Hershey School. The school was established by Milton S. Hershey in the beginning of the 20th century. Initially it was founded as a school for orphan boys. It’s developed into a school for children from economically and personally challenged backgrounds. My father graduated from the school. It’s become an example for me of the positive impact great wealth and compassion can have on a life and a community.

What does Milton Hershey School have to do with anything?

My wife sent me a link this morning to the video at the end of this post. It’s part of a story from a local ABC News affiliate about one of my wife’s students.

My wife taught Aaron Nowlin geometry in his freshman year at Milton Hershey. He’s now a senior at Milton Hershey School and is headed to the Naval Academy. Aaron is from North Philadelphia. If you’re not familiar with my city, North Philly is a rough neighborhood. It’s a bit like a wild west where all the cowboys are selling illegal substances.

What struck me most about the article is a quote from Mr. Nowlin about some of his friends from home. He said, “Some of my friends, like my closest friend that I grew up with are dead and gone. Some are incarcerated.”

What a sad truth. But that statement got me thinking about my cynicism.

Environment is everything.

Two friends grow up from the same neighborhood. One ends up dead (presumably from crime-related violence) and the other is off to the Naval Academy. The obvious split in their fates is the environment (and the influence of that environment) in which the two spent their adolescent years.

So what exactly does this have to do with Real Estate, Investing, or anything else related to Hard Money Bankers?

Let me explain this with a little story.

Before I got involved with Real Estate, I had a construction office on Grays Ferry Avenue in what is now the Graduate Hospital section of Philadelphia. At the time the area was full of crime. There was a small convenience store 2 blocks from my office that was robbed on a weekly basis. Half of the buildings were boarded up. One day I was walking to down the sidewalk and the back wall of a building on the next block collapsed. Suffice to say that it was a rough area.

I worked out of that office for a span of 4 years. By the time I left, the neighborhood changed. New construction and renovation was everywhere. Crime was down and most of the boarded properties had been converted to urban mansions. Today Graduate Hospital is one of the best neighborhoods in Philadelphia.

Investors can make a difference. We change environments. Those environments impact lives. They impact communities.

There will always be poverty, crime and drugs. Unfortunately they go hand in hand. But if our efforts can change the life of just one Aaron Nowlin, that payment is greater than any profit from a deal.

Today I’ve decided to put my skepticism on the back burner. Today I’ll expect the best in people. Thanks Aaron for reminding me that there’s still a lot of good in people.

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