Bernice King was too young to remember when her family uprooted from Atlanta in 1966 to move into a tiny West Side Chicago ghetto apartment on South Hamlin Avenue.
But she’s heard the stories: dilapidated buildings, broken windows, no central air, all concrete.
“Going to Chicago was one of the ways my father could highlight and show the racial, economic and housing disparities,” said King, the daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. “And my mother could see the aggression in us by being in that environment. Kids need to play outside and let out that energy.”
King’s next venture aims to help tackle some of her longtime concerns about housing. She and former White House adviser Ashley Bell have co-founded a new financial technology company that will qualify disadvantaged customers for mortgages when they pay their rent on time with a newly created mobile banking platform.
Ready Life is described as a digital banking and payment processing platform designed to make first-time home purchases and small business growth possible for Black consumers. Bell said the financial services the company will offer will “address a problem as old as this country itself: The struggle of Black families to build real generational wealth.”
Credit: Paul Holston
Credit: Paul Holston
“We’re going to make it possible for families to buy their first home, no matter their credit, and for small businesses to scale their operations, no matter their zip code,” said Bell, a former policy adviser for entrepreneurship and innovation in the White House Office of American Innovation.
The company will target current renters and will not use credit scores as a mortgage requirement. Instead, they will focus more on the applicant’s history of paying rent on time.
“This is an opportunity to create a new system and new path for home ownership because what we are doing does not work. We are rewriting the roles on homeownership,” said Bell, adding that their goal is to write 100,000 mortgages. “Credit scores are not the best indicator.”
In 2020, the National Association of Realtors reported that only 43% of Black Americans owned their homes, compared to 72% of white Americans.
King and Bell are also predicting that, by focusing on renters, they can open up pathways for younger people — in their 20s — to buy homes to begin to build wealth earlier.
King, the CEO of the King Center, points to her own family. It wasn’t until 1966, after the family had left Chicago, that her parents purchased their first home — on Sunset Avenue in Vine City. Martin Luther King Jr. was 37 years old.
“We had always rented,” Bernice King said. “My mother was the one who said she needed a home for her kids. So for me, this is an opportunity to overcome those barriers that we saw and lived.”
Ready Life will officially launch to the public on Labor Day as a major sponsor of Denny’s Orange Blossom Classic, the annual Black college football game between Jackson State and Florida A&M.
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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com