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Be Rich and Generous: Veteran's Path Up with Ken Lacy
In today's show, we invited Ken Lacy, a retired Navy diver and the founder of Veteran’s Path Up. Ken is a real estate investor with a passion for helping veterans.
The mission of Veteran’s Path Up is to provide affordable and stable housing to veterans and veteran families through the use of shared living, single family residences, and ultimately a path to home ownership.
In this episode, Ken shared the situation among veterans, what the organisation is all about, and how other people can help.
- Ken's background
- What Veteran’s Path Up is and how it started
- How they are helping veterans
- Stats on homelessness among veterans
- The path to home ownership and what they do
- Registering in the VA Healthcare Center
- One of their housewarming events
- How they get the properties
- Other ways to help out through labor and materials
- Their expansion and how it works
- Giving back through signing up as a local chapter
- VASH voucher
- How the chapter program works and how they screen people
- What's next for Veteran’s Path Up and what they are working on right now
- The timeframe
- "The start of financial freedom is education."
- "No matter how good of a job you may have, no matter what kind of education you may get, if you are not living in a stable house, then to be able to flourish is almost an impossibility."
RESOURCES AND LINKS FROM THIS SHOW:
- Metrolina Real Estate Investors Association
- HUD - VASH
- Veterans Path UP Facebook Page
- Veteran's Path Up's Website
- Contact information:
Larry: Welcome to the Brain-Picker-Pro show live from Lake Wiley, South Carolina down the lake from our home office looking out over the water and all the way from Charlotte, North Carolina, my good friend, founder of Veterans Path Up, an awesome, awesome, awesome organization, a veteran himself is my good friend Ken Lacy. What’s going on, buddy?
Ken: How are you doing, Larry? Are you doing alright?
Larry: Yeah. I’m doing great.
Ken: Way, way, way down in Rock Hill.
Larry: Are you in Rock Hill?
Ken: No. I’m in Charlotte.
Larry: Charlotte. Awesome, awesome. So, guys Ken is just a great guy, real estate guy, real estate investor, but his passion is helping veterans. He founded an awesome organization that we like to be a part of as much as we can called Veterans Path Up. So, Ken start out and tell our viewers a little bit about yourself.
Ken: Well, I’m a retired navy diver. I was in the navy for 26 years, 9 years active, about 17 years reserve. I had two to four jobs while I was in the navy. I was in the submarine for about four years and once I left that, I didn’t want to do that anymore. I did three years overseas security and while I was there, I got mentored by a navy seal and he was also an explosive ordnance disposal diver. I worked with Bill for several years and we decided I was going to go EOD, explosive ordnance disposal, diver. So, that was what I did before I got off active duty, then I was out for a couple of years. When I came back into reserves, I went to a mobile diving salvage unit and became a surface-supplied diver so working on chips underwater. That’s pretty much the way I went. I did one more EOD deployment over into the sandbox in the ‘07 - ‘08 timeframe and ultimately retired as a chief petty officer and navy diver.
Larry: That’s great, man. That’s great. We really, really appreciate your service. You’ve done a lot of service for our country and we appreciate that. That’s awesome. So tell us about Veterans Path Up. What do you got going on now?
Ken: Well, the background of Veterans Path Up is it started more as a hobby because some of the houses that we were rehabbing in the greater Charlotte area, we were totally rehabbing low price point homes, putting tenants under property management and selling those to turn key investors. I started working with some of the veteran non-profits including the veterans administration to get veterans into the very homes that we were rehabbing and putting renters into.
Ken: That was doing pretty good and I saw a lot of value in that. I got a lot of joy in being able to help our veterans but I realize I could do a lot more if we started a nonprofit. Two years of doing that and we then created Veterans Path Up. In the very first week, the Veterans Path Up was created. The city donated us a house.
Ken: That house was the start of this. You remember the metro line where real estate investors association, we got a bunch of volunteers from the [inaudible 03:33] that came out and help get the property. This property was boarded up and vandalized. It was a messed. It had been vacant for over four years and we turned that from being the worst house in the neighborhood to the best house in the neighborhood. The veteran family that moved into it, they were couchsurfing before their got into that house, you know, living with relatives and family members. At one point, they were also homeless, but they moved into that house, rented the house while we built their credit up. They took financial training classes because the start of financial freedom is education.
Ken: They took financial training classes. They got their credit up. We got them paired up with some down payment assistance and they closed on their VA loan over a year ago. They are 100% self sufficient and they are now homeowners.
Larry: That’s awesome, man. That is a great, great story. I love that. I love that. Tell us a little bit about, I’ve heard you say this before but without some of the stats, about veterans and homelessness ang things like that.
Ken: Well, just in Charlotte alone, and the numbers seem to be when you are looking at metropolitan areas, I’m not talking about rural areas, but in the city of Charlotte alone, there’s over 50,000 veterans. In the greater Charlotte area, all the surrounding towns, there’s over 130,000 veterans. Two-thirds of them are in some sort of financially challenged situation. When you spread that out across United States and we’re talking millions of veterans, the numbers are not that far off. So, the need is huge, and we believe that it all starts no matter how good of a job you may have, no matter what kind of education you may get, if you’re not living in a stable house, then to be able to flourish is almost an impossibility.
Actually, the very first veteran that I helped into a house, two years before I even started Veterans Path Up, she had two jobs. One was at the Charlotte airport and she had another part time job. She had twin daughters, only 5 years old, and she was living in a women’s shelter.
Ken: She was living in a women’s shelter and in any given day, she couldn’t decided whether she was going to stay in the shelter where she hated or sleep in her car with her two daughters. Picture that, having to get yourself cleaned up, squared away so you can get your kids into daycare and then you off to one of your jobs. That’s just not stable, so that’s where we sort of started.
Larry: Well, you really have a path to homeownership for Veterans Path Up. I mean, you start them here and then you work them up until they eventually become a homeowner. Share a little bit about that.
Ken: A lot of what we do is sort of connect the dots. We can’t be everything to every veteran but I know the organizations, they can be part of that, whether it be getting their resume together, getting the job, getting a better job, connecting with the resources, it’s amazing how many veterans that are out there that haven’t gone in and got registered at the VA Healthcare Center.
Ken: And I tell people this. There are veterans that are not plugged in even if you don’t need healthcare. If you’re a veteran who doesn’t need it, if you go get plugged into the VA Healthcare Center in your local area it won’t matter where it is in the entire United States, that brings federal money to your local VA System and here in Charlotte, that’s over $3200 simply by getting registered, you have brought money into your local economy and the veterans administration here to help out. That’s just a nugget for any veteran who is listening to this for them to do. Connecting the dots is a great deal of what we do. Veterans Path Up is focused on the housing piece of it. So, the veterans that typically move into our homes, start out by renting the house, we now contractually obligate them to take financial training classes so that they can work on their path to home ownership.
Larry: That’s great. That’s great. A while back, we actually, Candice and I, actually attended one of your housewarming events where you were presenting the keys to another veteran. Tell a little bit about that.
Ken: Do you remember which one that was?
Larry: Wow. It was on a dead end street. Last house on the right at a dead end street, I believe.
Ken: So that was a rainy day, as I recall.
Larry: It was.
Ken: Yep. That was Thomas and Joe Kay.
Larry: See, man. That’s a great testimony to everything you’re doing. You’re like, “which house was that?” because we’re helping so many people, right? I love it. That’s great.
Ken: Well, thanks. I appreciate that. Thomas and Joe Kay. I’ll tell you what, they moved here from Maryland. Their baby was born three months premature and they both had jobs at the time. Joe Kay was in intensive care and obviously was not able to work and that cut their income down substantially and Thomas, the marine veteran, he was having to take off work to take care of his family. Eventually, he got let go. Now, they had no income, a baby who is barely out of intensive care, and they just said, “Let’s get out of Maryland.” And they ended up in Charlotte. I was one of the first people that they call. I talked to them. I worked with them. It just turned into a great fit. This is where the stable housing component is so key because they moved into the house renting it. Within two weeks, Joe Kay who is a teacher was able to get a job and now they went from being totally unemployed and homeless in Maryland to having two jobs within only a few weeks after moving into this house. So now, they are on their path to homeownership as well. They’re still renting right now while we build their credit up, but they are just in love with the house, the community rally around it, and actually as you may recall, that was the first house that a staging company got involved and said, “we want to stage this house for you. We’re not going to ask for the furniture back.”
Larry: Oh, it was beautiful, man. We did a tour. We walked through the house. It was gorgeous, wasn’t it?
Ken: Absolutely. It was a total blessing to not only Veterans Path Up to that family for sure.
Larry: That is great.
Ken: Whatever house we’re working on right before Veterans day, they want to stage that house as well.
Larry: That is awesome. Now, you mentioned earlier that the city gave you your first house. How do you get the properties that you end up putting veterans in typically? What are some of the different ways?
Ken: So, they can be donated by individuals, they can be donated by organizations or landlords that have one or more houses, or donated by the city or county government. We don’t want to be restricted to any of them because as the market has continued to grow as you well know, there’s not a lot of houses out there. The city of Charlotte actually has no more houses right now to donate to us and they donated the last three. Having someone that would like to fund the acquisition of the house or help fund the acquisition of the house, or donate a house, it would be a huge benefit to us especially here in the greater Charlotte area.
Larry: Which by the way it would be a tax deductible donation because you are a 501(c)(3) non-profit, right?
Ken: That is 100% correct. Full fair market value donation is what you can get as far as your deduction from your taxes.
Larry: That is awesome. I love that. I love that. What are some of the other ways that people are helping out with both labor and material?
Ken: Well we get lots of volunteer support whenever we’re doing a party. Typically as we get closer towards the end, we’re paying for the trades, we’re paying for the HVAC system, we’re paying for the electrician and the plumbers, the volunteer part of it sort of fades away at that point. I have not had any volunteer electricians or plumbers come in.
Larry: Not yet. Not yet.
Ken: Not yet. Not yet. That would be a great benefit because those are huge expenses. We’ve actually partnered with Home Depot. They’ve given us material grants on three of the last houses and they’ve also had a Home Depot volunteer work day where we’ve had anywhere from 50 to 65 Home Depot volunteers all come out and commit a whole day to it. We’ve had as much as 300 man hours of work in one day on one of the properties. Typically, that’s about what it is. The support from Home Depot, support from the Metrolina, the support from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. They’ve helped on every single house that we’ve done and it’s certainly behooves the police department to take a vandalized, boarded up, blighted property into being a pillar of the community because that helps decrease their crime in those neighborhoods. The stats actually prove that around the neighborhoods that we have homes in.
Larry: Man, that is awesome. That’s really good, and it’s great that you got organizations like Home Depot involved, being able to fund some of those materials. That is awesome.
Ken: Home Depot has committed a house a quarter to us. We are needing the house this quarter because right now we don’t have a house to work on at the moment. We would just forego that grant without a house to work on at this stage. Now, that being said, I was contacted by the Charlotte Hornets a few weeks ago and they needed a veteran project to work on, and I had connected with the local Vietnam air force veteran that we have here. He has been living in his house since 1972 and he needs a wheelchair ramp. So, we had a volunteer Hornets and Bank of America co-partnership workday just a couple of weeks ago on this veteran’s house. That’s a whole nother thing where there’s veteran that are living in their homes that have in-house needs. I mean, I have seen people with floors that are falling through, veterans with decks that are falling through, veterans that struggle just to get down four steps from their porch landing to the side wall. That don’t even count the veterans that are homeless, the veterans that are not in stable housing, the veterans that are couchsurfing. This is whole nother sect of veterans that are in need as well, and we’d like to be able to support them going forward as well.
Larry: That’s huge. Now Kim, you started in Charlotte. That’s where, for a lack of a better word, corporate headquarters or whatever it is, right?
Larry: But you’re also now expanding into other areas because there’s going to be people watching this, not only in Charlotte but all over the country, right? So, tell us a little bit about the expansion and what that looks like, how that works.
Ken: We are able to operate other chapters and other states. We’ve got a chapter in Richmond, Virginia. We have a registered representative in Jackson, Mississippi now. We’ve got people that want to have chapters in Jacksonville, Florida; Orlando; Dallas; Houston; Atlanta; Gary, Indiana. Tom Olson. I think you know Tom.
Ken: He will probably be our next chapter as we expand beyond. He’s already got somebody he wants to dedicate to be his executive director for Veterans Path Up in Gary, Indiana. Also in Maine, in Ohio. The desire to be part of ending veteran instability in homes across the United States is strong. As we are able to open those chapters, it’s just going to blossom from there. I’m just confident of it because of the support and the people that want to help our veterans.
Larry: Now, Ken, most of the people who end up signing up as a local chapter, they’re already in real estate probably, right? They’re real estate investors or real estate entrepreneurs. They do fix from flips or rentals or whatever. So, it’s just a way to extend what they’re doing and being able to give back, right?
Ken: Well certainly it is. We are certainly not looking for this person who is not in real estate, who is not a veteran, and who has no background knowledge or any type of deal flow at all, the hurdle to what we’re doing and what we’re looking for would be too great. The real estate investor, the person who is geared for giving to veterans, has a love for veterans, is certainly what we’re looking for. A seasoned real estate investor is going to be a huge plus.
Now, to go further, if you’re a veteran or you’re already in the affordable housing space and are familiar with how that works, because I don’t only work in the affordable housing arena, I also work with the local government as well, so having an idea of how affordable housing works, how adjusted mean income restrictions work relative to the VA, the VASH program... I know you’re familiar with VASH. It’s just like Section 8 (housing) except you know you have an honorably discharged veteran that has those vouchers. I have probably helped 30 to 40 veterans with VASH vouchers that couldn’t find a house, get into a home, and the waiting list for those vouchers is huge. The beauty about the VASH voucher over just the Section 8 voucher, that can be a permanent voucher but the veteran is more inclined to want to get out of that entitlement mode if you will, because we do not give properties away. I’ve seen where that doesn’t work unless you create a financial education environment where the veterans become good stewards of their money, then they’re ultimately going to lose that house if it’s given to them. We are a true, teach a man to fish as opposed to give a man a fish mentality. We believe that that’s a win-win situation and we’ve had great success with our veterans once we implemented some of our requirements for being part of our program.
Larry: Right. So you’re basically helping the ones that want to help themselves, right? They’re aren’t just looking for hand out.
Larry: That’s good. That’s very, very important. So, tell us how the chapter program works. I mean, there’s probably somebody watching who is out there and they’re already doing real estate and they like what you’re saying, how does the chapter program work and how do you screen people to become a chapter member and what’s involved in that?
Ken: Well, we do have an application process. Richmond was sort of our test bed. Moe Matthews up there is not only a very seasoned real estate investor, he’s also a veteran. He’s a retired marine. He knows affordable housing. So, he’s got the perfect framework of what an ideal chapter would be.
Ken: So, the truth is, he got his chapter really before we were really ready for it, but that’s sort of part of beta testing, right? So that we can help iron out the squeaks and the bumps. We are still trying to put the final touches on being able to springboard and to creating the multiple chapters and we’re looking to have that finished up by next quarter and be ready to move forward. I would venture to say Tom Olson and Indiana is going to be our next chapter that will take advantage of this and there’s a lot of opportunity in Gary, Indiana and Detroit area.
Larry: Oh, absolutely.
Ken: Detroit is another area where we have someone who wants to have a chapter there.
Larry: That’s great. He is in a prime market up there. I’ve actually been up there where he is many times. How many chapters do you have now?
Ken: So we have two registered representatives in addition to us here in Charlotte. Ultimately, I will have to move into a national role and ultimately replace myself here in Charlotte with somebody to run the Charlotte chapter at the point in which we are not knocking on all cylinders and building the chapters.
Larry: That’s great. You definitely have a lot of good people in the area that are supporting Veterans Path Up, so I’m sure you’ll have a really good tool to pull from for that. So Ken, what’s next for Veterans Path Up? What are you working on right now?
Ken: So, the infrastructure for the national with the chapters is our big goal moving forward. As you know, when this airs, we will have just had a big fundraising event at the Ingersoll-Rand Corporate Headquarters. Partnerships, sponsorships, and people who want to be involved monetarily is really key for us to be able to move forward and really springboard. We ultimately have a self-funded model but we need to have a lot more houses under our belt to get to that point. Our biggest need right now are more houses and monetary support.
Larry: That’s good. More houses, monetary support, you probably got a lot of volunteers I’m assuming, right?
Ken: I hate to say we have plenty of volunteers, but the people that want to swing a hammer and do some pulling out of weeds, trees, and bushes and stuff, we can put that together pretty easily. There’s actually organizations that are just looking for projects to do, but it typically doesn’t come with any money. It comes with the volunteer support which is once again a wonderful and we tap into that on every house, but the bigger need for us right now are houses and actual money.
Our model from the past has been, once we have a house donated to us, we still have to get the money to rehab it because much volunteer support we may have, we still have to buy materials, we still have to pay for the trades. I actually go out and get a loan against those houses to be able to afford the rehab on the house. Hence, if we have debt on the property, we certainly cannot give the house away to a veteran but we ultimately are very motivated to get that veteran to where they can get a loan to buy the house that we have debt against. That’s our whole focus, to get them on the path to homeownership.
Larry: Now, Ken, do you use private money for that or do you use bank financing for that?
Ken: So far 100% of our funding has been private, not bank financing.
Larry: So an ideal scenario would be someone that maybe wants to help fund that rehab either as a donation or as an interest-free loan or something like that, right?
Ken: Yes. Donations are wonderful. An interest-free loan is wonderful as well, because we can pay that money back. We’re not the typical non-profit that always has to have 100% donations and nothing can be given back because we ultimately are going to sell that house. We ultimately have rental income although when you’re doing large interest loans which I did in the beginning, I’ve had double digit interest loans on houses and that really just covered the interest on it, so that’s not what we’re looking for. The last loan we got is only 7%. If we could get 5% or less or no percent from a philanthropic person who still wants to get their money back, that would be wonderful as well.
Larry: What kind of timeframe typically is the money held during the time that you’re seasoning that veteran and getting them all to the path of homeownership from the time that you need the money until you ultimately sell the property to them and you can pay off the loan.
Ken: The veterans that have already gotten loans so far have averaged less than 12 months, but I don’t want to be restricted by 12 months. I project a long-term average of closer to 18 months so I would rather be being not locked-in to anything more than two years.
Ken: 24 months, 18 months would work and 3-5 years would be an easy achievable goal as well.
Larry: Yes, so there might be some people out there that have money sitting on the sidelines whether in a retirement account or 401(k) or something or even in a checking or savings account, or even in the stock market, even if they made you a loan at 5%, that would be better than what you’ve been getting and that would really help, right?
Ken: Absolutely. There’s a lot of retirees out there that got hit with the downturns, got hit with stock market buzz, that are now working again when they intended on being retired now. If the banks are only giving you less than a quarter perfect interest and that’s where you’re whole money is set, what is 5% relative to that? You’re getting a 30 times of what the interest rate is you’re getting on your homes. You know Bob Zachmeier.
Larry: Oh yes.
Ken: Tucson, Arizona. He invest retiree money all the time and when you’re used to get a quarter percent or less, 5% is heaven.
Larry: There you go. Now that you won’t take an interest free loan if somebody offered it but somewhere around 3 to 5 or less would be great and that would really help you out, plus they’re making money as well.
Larry: That’s awesome. So, Ken, this has been really, really good. There’s probably people watching that you know are investors who might be interested in the chapter, they have passive money that would like to either donate or loan money to Veterans Path Up for your next project, and also maybe veterans or other people that know veterans that need Veterans Path Up, how would somebody reach out to you and learn more about whether they’re on the veteran side, needing help, or know someone or they want to help Veterans Path Up and your mission.
Ken: Well, you can contact us through firstname.lastname@example.org . You can send email@example.com, direct email to connect with us. You can send me an email as well, firstname.lastname@example.org. You can connect with us in social media, Facebook, Intagram, and Twitter. There’s a lot of ways to connect with us. We’ll be happy to get back with you.
Larry: You also have a lot of good information on the actual website.
Ken: Absolutely and we’re always posting good content on Facebook and once again, we’re part of what’s called NCServes, North Carolina Services, which is also part of the [inaudible 29:51] and we’re able to connect veterans with other resources as well through that dashboard and HIPAA compliant website so there’s a lot of different ways to get plugged in. Shoot us an email and engaging with us through our website and direct email, you’ll get a response pretty quick.
Larry: So what you’re saying is even if maybe you don’t have a program to help a specific situation, you’re plugged in and can make a referral so you can be a resource for veterans for all different types of assistance.
Ken: Absolutely. Once again, Tom Olson is having a go-giver event a couple of weeks after ours, one of the characters in that book is called the connector, so I would like to consider myself a connected with relative to if a veteran’s got a need, I know where the answer is to satisfy that need.
Larry: That’s awesome. That’s really good. Ken, I really appreciate you being on today. This has been awesome. There’s a lot of great information. It’s a great thing that you’re doing out there to help people and we really appreciate it.
Ken: Well it’s been an honor. I respect you so much, Larry. You have helped us and are just incredible in the community. I look forward to continue to partner with you guys and anything I can do to help, just let me know.
Larry: Sounds great man. Thanks a lot. I really appreciate all you’re doing and keep up the great work.
Ken: Thanks for having us on. I appreciate it.
Larry: Thanks a lot.