Building and Protecting Wealth for Baltimore’s Vulnerable Families: Opportunities and Challenges

Speakers: Diane Bell McKoy, Senior Fellow with the Casey Foundation; Lisa Evans, Deputy Director of St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center; Robin McKinney, Assistant Director of the East Harbor Community Development Corporation and Christopher Tan, Program Officer for Local Initiatives Support Corporation in Chicago.

Moderator: Deborah Owens, host of Moneyworks on WEAA 88.9 FM and author of Confident Investing: A Wealth Building Guide for Women and Nickel and Dime Your Way To Wealth. 

University of Baltimore - Thumel Business School Auditorium

While many low-income Marylanders are going to work, data suggests that most still have trouble making ends meet and even more have difficulty saving money for a car, home or college. 

Deborah Owens   


Deborah Owens believes that people aren’t really ready to make a significant change in their life until they undergo what she calls an “emotional pivot.” According to Deborah, this is the moment in which they can see the path to a better life and success becomes real to them. In order to help people reach that emotional pivot, we may need to change our own way of thinking. For example, if a person is motivated to invest, it may be better to encourage them to do so and allow them the opportunity to watch their investments grow then to focus exclusively on debt reduction.  

Diane Bell McKoy


“Having a more robust African-American middle class in Baltimore must be our agenda,” said Diane Bell McKoy. The share of African-Americans joining the middle class has stagnated over past decades. Without a prosperous, well-educated middle class, Baltimore will not generate enough wealth to remain economically competitive, nor will the city be able to meet obligations to seniors and other critical public needs. Research conducted by the Casey Foundation reveals that race does matter in wealth creation. Baltimore’s communities continue to be in jeopardy, with 65% of Baltimore’s African-American citizens earning less than $35,000 per year. 

Robin McKinney


Robin McKinney agreed with Deborah Owens on the need for an emotional pivot. Because Robin’s clients are often overwhelmed by the thought of saving for a house, she challenges them to make changes in their lives in brisk, seven-day increments. By asking, “What are you going to do differently in the next seven days?” she is able to help clients see their progress immediately.

Robin also stressed the importance of individual development accounts (IDA). Though eligibility requirements are tough, these matched savings accounts prove invaluable for those who can obtain them. Service providers should learn how to take advantage of the numerous IDA slots currently sitting empty in Baltimore City. 

Lisa Evans


St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center provides pre and post-purchase homeownership education so that individuals who are able to buy houses can keep them. According to Lisa Evans, more and more low-income people are falling victim to predatory real estate practices, especially as lenders continually put buyers into higher interest loans where they do not belong. In addition, unknowing first-time homebuyers find themselves at risk when they think they have a fixed loan, but then get to settlement and learn at the last minute, when it is already too late, that they do not. 

Christopher Tan


Christopher Tan views asset building as a non-linear process. At the Local Initiatives Support Corporation in Chicago, caseworkers help clients through a long-term, gradual process. During year one, clients focus not so much on saving money as on lowering their asset depleting activities. The actual asset building process does not begin until the second year of their casework.

Christopher also stresses the need for service providers to understand that every situation is different. People living paycheck to paycheck have a need for immediate liquidity because they cannot rely on credit. As a result, there is a demand and supply side to payday lending. 

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