For newly arrived refugees in Louisville, finding housing and steady employment are key first steps in building a new life. Many have ambitions beyond the basics, but need a little help to put their ambition in motion.
That’s where LHOME can step in. The Louisville Housing Opportunities and Micro-Enterprise community development loan fund exists to provide small loans ($5,000 or less) for those living in low-income communities. Some of the fund’s 19 loans have helped elderly people pay off property taxes so they can stay in their homes. Some have gone to refugees to start small businesses. Some have gone to contractors to buy equipment.
For Omar Mahmood, a 32-year-old Iraqi refugee who settled in Louisville in 2017, working a full-time job at Flex Electronics was a good start. But he dreamed of more, and wanted to spend the weekends driving for Uber and Lyft. He needed a car, so LHOME helped and he was able to buy a 2016 Nissan Altima for $8,000, using his own savings and $4,000 he borrowed from the fund. Since April, he has been driving 20 hours on weekends.
Amy Shir is the enthusiastic advocate for LHOME and its executive director. She came on board in 2017 with a new board, and has raised more than $200,000 in capital, from foundations, banks and individuals. Of the 19 loans she has made so far, valued at nearly $100,000, all of the borrowers are on schedule to pay back their loans, she says.
“It’s all bubbling up from the community,” she says from the fund’s office on Berry Boulevard. “At least 60 percent go to areas with low and moderate income. We’re serving West End, South End, Newburg, Buechel. The geography is important, and we can help if they live there.”
Shir says the loans go to African refugees, African-Americans, and elderly homeowners struggling to pay taxes. She says Mahmood’s story isn’t unusual.
“African refugees are unbelievable, they are working constantly,” she says. “Some are working at Amazon and want to work more so on Saturday and Sunday they’re driving for Uber and Lyft. We’re getting them the money to buy that extra car so they can work even harder. They are not only supporting their families here, but they may have 40 family members in Somalia who don’t have jobs. They’re sending everything back to their families.”
She says Mahmood, who has a college degree from Iraq, wants to build an app that makes it easier for Arabic-speaking people living in the U.S. to order rides or meals.
Shir has other stories to share: One refugee used a loan to set up her own booth in the International Mall at 8th and York. Another bought a cargo van to start a delivery business, and another is transporting people to and from doctors’ appointments.
Shir believes LHOME is playing an important role in the community, often providing just the right amount of money to help people succeed. She says her clients are often overlooked as the community’s economy improves.
“We’re filling a niche,” she says. “We’re being the voice for them, to be sure. It’s not by and for rich people. These investments go to people who live in community.”