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United Methodists help Korean community own homes

First-time homebuyers receive down-payment assistance through KCCD.
First-time homebuyers Sung Woo Rhee and Myung Suk Jin (center) received more than $174,000 in government down-payment assistance through the Korean Churches for Community Development Homeownership Program in Los Angeles.
A UMNS photo courtesy of KCCD.

By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Dec. 12, 2007 | LOS ANGELES (UMNS)

"Sang-hee's" dream of home ownership had some major roadblocks: she was a single mother in a low-income job, and she faced a language barrier.

The high-risk, subprime adjustable rate mortgages offered in the past few years were the light at the end of tunnel for Sang-hee (who did not want to be identified) and millions like her. That light went out, however, when the mortgage rates soared and nearly priced her out of her home.

But she found someone to turn to that literally spoke her own language and spoke it with compassion.

United Methodist Korean Americans Hyepin Im and her husband, Jin Kim (right), began KCCD in 2001. Joshua Byung An (left) is a project coordinator for the faith-based organization.
United Methodist Korean Americans Hyepin Im and her husband, Jin Kim (right), began KCCD in 2001. Joshua Byung An (left) is a project coordinator for the faith-based organization. A UMNS photo by
Kathy L. Gilbert.

Help came from a nonprofit faith-based organization founded and run by two United Methodist Korean Americans, Hyepin Im and her husband, Jin Kim. Korean Churches for Community Development's mission is to help people like Sang-hee move from poverty to self-sustenance.

Established in 2001, KCCD helps Korean and other Asian-American churches expand their social services in areas such as affordable housing, job training and economic development.

"I see this really as a calling, and I have a sure conviction in my heart that it is God that is leading this effort," said Im, president and chief executive officer. Im and Kim, executive director, have faced obstacles, but their work has paid off because today they are "talking with the big dogs," she said.

Im and Kim convinced Sang-hee not to give up and brought her to testify in a congressional hearing held by U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. They are hopeful she will be able to stay in her home.

Participating in congressional hearings to advocate for "those who are not on anyone's radar screen" is part of the experience Im and Kim bring to the table for their mostly Korean-American clients. They have started partnerships with CVS Pharmacy, State Farm insurance, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, to name a few, Im said.

So far in 2007, they have helped 14 families purchase their first homes and provided more than $1.19 million in government down payment assistance and over $2.7 million in first mortgages.

Closing the gap

California and Florida are the leading states in U.S. home foreclosures, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association, which reported an all-time high in foreclosures during July to September.

Kim said there is a huge gap in the ownership rate in the United States, especially in southern California, where the median price for a home is $500,000 while the median income is $50,000 to $60,000.

In Los Angeles, before the federal government will provide assistance, a person must complete 12 hours of education in homeownership. KCCD is one of only three agencies in the city that provide that education, Im said.

"We also provide one-on-one counseling for everyone who goes through our education session," she said. KCCD assesses their situation and helps them qualify for a loan and down-payment assistance. "We also provide handholding throughout the escrow process.

"On average, we save people about $2,000-3,000 in excess fees that are just placed on the unsuspecting consumer who is signing documents," said Im. "They don’t know what they are just signing away, so we are able to go over the documents. On average for each client, we do about 100 e-mails back and forth. It’s a very labor-intense service."

Spending that much time builds trust, and Im said that is why people come to them for help when they are suddenly in a foreclosure situation.

According to the 2000 census, the four communities that are below the U.S. national rate in income are Latinos, African Americans, Native Americans and Koreans, Im said. Koreans also have the second-highest language barrier problem in the United States.

"When you have low income in any kind of crisis, you’re going to be impacted," she said. "At this point, we are the only Asian agency in the country that is providing any foreclosure assistance," Im said.

Many miracles

Im said KCCD has been the product of "many miracles" starting with her parents, who are in ministry.

"We are constantly having to almost invent the wheel or be pioneers because there is no other group even in the Asian-American community like us."
-- Hyepin Im
She grew up seeing her parents help immigrants with housing, education, social services and other needs, and all with very limited means.

"I saw a wonderful model," she said of her parents.

She admits that sometimes at night, she gets a little scared because of all the people who are depending on her and looking to her for answers.

"We are constantly having to almost invent the wheel or be pioneers because there is no other group even in the Asian-American community like us," she said.

Im ticks off the things she sees as potential obstacles stacked against her: she is a young female in ministry but not ordained and Korean American. She said even though her Korean is not perfect she has no fear of "walking boldly into any room and taking risks."

Anytime she feels doubt, she says, she retraces her steps to see if what she is doing was her idea or God's.

"Each step of the way, when it's very scary and it's very stressful, God has always brought help."

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.


Hyepin Im:  "The church is where they go for help."

Jin Kim: "There is a huge gap in home ownership rate in the U.S."


Hyepin Im

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