How Determination and Hard Work Helped an Immigrant Family Become Homeowners Not Once, but Twice

Jean Marie and Renilida are positively fearless when it comes to creating a better life and making sure their four children will have the opportunity to pursue their own dreams.  

Seven years ago, the family immigrated from Tanzania, a country in East Africa known for its vast wilderness areas and beautiful lakes. “When we came here,” shared Jean Marie, “we started with zero.” He and his family were placed in Albuquerque where they worked with Lutheran Family Services (LFS), a faith-based nonprofit that helps refugees to resettle and become self-sufficient. LFS provides essential services that include housing, employment, English language skills, and cultural orientation to help clients integrate into their new communities. 

Through LFS, Jean Marie and Renilida were able to find a place to rent and get jobs. They saved enough to pay off the travel loan they incurred as part of the immigration process. Next, they set their sights on buying a home. LFS introduced them to Homewise where they met Ambrose, a Realtor®. “Ambrose is wonderful, and so nice,” said Jean Marie. “He tries to help with everything, and I can always ask him for advice.” 

They continued to work hard and save as much as they could, and also took advantage of the free financial classes and coaching services that Homewise offers. About 18 months later, they moved into their first home. “A lot of clients are nervous about their first home purchase,” noted Ambrose, “but not Jean Marie. He is very driven and embraced the opportunity to borrow money for a home whole-heartedly.” 

While Renilida continued to work for an electronics manufacturer close to their new home, Jean Marie found a different job working for a contractor that provides meals to workers in oil fields. “I don’t make a lot of money, but I am very good at saving,” said Jean Marie. He currently works in Texas where he puts in 12-hour days, 7 days a week for 6 weeks, and then gets 2 weeks off. Amazingly, the couple were able to pay off their mortgage ahead of schedule! 

With their first mortgage paid off, Jean Marie was ready to look for a new home. “My children were growing and we needed more space,” he explained. He called Ambrose to get the ball rolling. His first offer on the home he eventually bought was rejected because the owner did not want to negotiate on the price. After looking at other properties, however, Jean Marie realized that was the house he wanted, so they went back and this time the owner accepted his offer. Jean Marie and Renilida purchased their second home last July. 

Their new place is a large single-level home that was formerly an assisted living facility, so there are lots of bedrooms and bathrooms—perfect for the family of six, plus room for Jean Marie’s sister. They also love having a sizable back yard where they have already done a ton of work to clear out weeds and dead brush. The home, located in the heart of the Northeast Heights neighborhood, is close to Jean Marie’s mother and brother, which was another great selling point.  

While their home needs a lot of work, they are steadily making progress. Jean Marie would like to eventually take classes and learn how to make home improvements so that he won’t have to pay someone else to do them. He would also like to find a new job where he would not have to travel and could spend more time at home with his family. “I am a chef,” he says, “and would ideally like to work at a hotel.” 

The children—now aged 6 through 14—love having their own bedrooms. They are doing great in school, and appear happy and comfortable in their new home. An enormous chalk board near the home’s entry helps keep their very busy lives in order; it is completely filled with work schedules, school dates, and times to study, pray, do chores, and even a strict 9pm bedtime reminder. 

Jean Marie and Renilida now rent their first home to a Syrian refugee family through LFS. Jean Marie says it is working out well, and they are happy to be helping another family build a new life in Albuquerque, a city he describes as “amazing” and is grateful to call home. 

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