What’s life like before Emmanuel House?

In February and March, I’m introducing you to families who are partnering with Emmanuel House – and with you – in their journey toward home ownership. In this series we’re calling “Finding Home,” you’ll meet people at four different stages of the journey: One still waiting for a place in our Networked Saving program, one currently living at an Emmanuel House property, one who recently purchased their own home, and one several years out of the program and reaping the long-term benefits.

Papa Jean, Matthieu’s father

Matthieu and his family left their birth country under threat of death. It took 8 years to get to the United States. And now, this family wants a home.

I called Matthieu on a bright, warmer-than-usual Sunday afternoon. We’d intended to talk the day before, but the few times we tried he was in the middle of helping a friend move into a new apartment.

Like the friend he was helping, Matthieu was born in the Congo. Choosing (or being forced) to move into a new apartment can be a frequent occurrence for families like theirs – or for any family that rents long-term.

Until recently, Matthieu lived together with his family in a large apartment on the east side of Aurora with his parents, four brothers, two sisters and a young niece. His family has lived in the same apartment since they were resettled as refugees in Aurora in 2014. He speaks of them with affection and pride. When I asked why they left their home in war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, he told me that his father (known in the family and community as “Papa Jean”) worked as a driver and was a member of a political opposition party. Papa Jean was forced to flee with his family under threat from the dominant political party at the time.

Matthieu was a student when his family left the DRC to move west to the Republic of the Congo. At some point, the tight-knit family left again for neighboring Cameroon, and it was from there that they were accepted into the United States Refugee Program.

Papa Jean arrived in the US with his wife, children and niece 8 years after originally leaving their home in Kinshasa, DRC. Now, two years after that, the family is ready to put down roots again. They want to own a house.

Why? Having a “family home,” as Matthieu refers to it, has special significance and rootedness. But beyond that, Matthieu says that he, his parents and the other adult children feel there’s a certain futility to renting long-term. He looks ahead to the future when they might one day not only purchase a home, but eventually own it outright. More than just a symbol of permanence in their new country, the asset would bring a level of financial stability to the entire family.

When I asked what was stopping them from purchasing a home, Matthieu laughed lightheartedly. “Money!” Between Matthieu, Papa Jean, his wife and a few adult children, the family has stable income, but expensive rent and regular living expenses don’t allow them to save at the rate they need to in order to provide a down payment anytime soon.

The family joins many others currently on the waiting list for Emmanuel House’s Network Saving program. They’re waiting for a savings unit to open up that would allow them to more than $15,000 toward a down payment over the span of an 18-month program – an amount that could otherwise take many years to save.

They’re waiting to begin to put down roots again.