Prosperity Homes’ Daniel de Leon & Jeremiah Forest in Conversation with HUP PART 1
Daniel de Leon and Jeremiah Forest from Prosperity Homes visited HUP’s headquarter in downtown LA for a cup of coffee and conversation with Luz Lluncor and Sacha van der Most van Spijk. What ensued was a passionate conversation about Social Entrepreneurship in the world of Real Estate.
Luz Lluncor (LL): Please introduce yourself, how long have you been in the real estate business, what office do you work for, and where are you located?
Daniel de Leon (DL): I am Prosperity Homes’ Real Estate agent. I’m with Keller Williams, and started my own Pierlis Group with which I’ve been in business for 5 years, before that I did mortgage for ten years. I experienced both the up and down markets. One of the reasons why the Prosperity Homes project is close to my heart, is that I was homeless myself for 3 months after the market crashed in 2008. Luckily I had my family to help me out.
Jeremiah Forest (JF): I’ve been in the real estate industry for 15 years. I work out of the Mortgage Phoenix Group, in Rancho Cucamonga. This is the birthplace of the non-profit organization Prosperity Homes. Inside that organization we started working with Daniel, and collectively we started giving back, contributing to building projects in Guatemala and Nicaragua. From there came the idea of taking this full scale and we started thinking about the possibility if we could replicate this model in each community across America.
LL: I work with American Pacific Mortgage, and was not aware that your Mortgage Group was involved with this non-profit organization. I think it is important that the message needs to go out on a bigger scale, so we can get more people involved.
DL: That’s the whole purpose. Eventually, we want to have this concept nation wide, and currently the message is spreading already, as somebody from New Hampshire has reached out to Jeremiah, who likes the idea of giving back. Personally I was not aware, how I was able to give back through the housing business until I got in touch with Jeremiah. He opened my eyes, and I realized this was a great way to give back and get involved.
Sacha van der Most van Spijk (SMS): How did this initially start?
JF: Along with our third partner, Francisco Jara, Daniel and myself created service projects during our time at a previous mortgage company. We finished an elementary school in Guatemala. We worked in farm camps in Mexico. I traveled to Africa and helped out in the refugee camps, and these experiences transformed our company culture and the lives of those that joined us. This was the genesis of Prosperity Homes.
SMS: What triggered it for you? Why did you get started with these projects in the first place?
JF: I was unhappy personally. I felt unfulfilled, even in success, and business. There was something desperately lacking in my life. Going to Africa and working in the refugee camps, we met people in the harshest conditions you can imagine. It was one of those moments of realization that you could do things differently here. When we got back working together after the financial crash in 2008, we wanted to keep our focus on outreach. It was kind of a slow process to get where we are now over the last few years, but now we feel like the momentum is changing.
SMS: Daniel, for you the connection was that because of your personal experience?
DL: Jeremiah was really the humanitarian, and for Francisco and myself, he is our inspiration. We can move people and create things, but he is really the one that has the heart. In 2005, we decided to help an Elementary school in Guatemala, and that’s where I’m from. I was driven for causes like this, as my dad always told us we have a social responsibility. When I got in touch with Jeremiah and Francisco, connecting with that vision of how we can create a business that’s actually giving back, made me realize I can make that a way of life. Now my business is based on how many deals we can close and how many projects we can build. We want to do this on a bigger scale and spread this kind of thinking all over the USA. We see now that there are possibilities to team up with companies who have already done work like this, and we can learn from them.
LL: So this is really about collaborating with different organizations. Finding out where the needs are, and where can we contribute positively to the communities? There are really not many organizations locally in our area doing this in real estate. Do you know of more real estate organizations like this?
DL: I have not seen any, so I am happy that Jeremiah gave me that ambassador role just to inspire others. I guess I’m lucky that when I tell people something, they do feel inspired. So now it is about how can we inspire these other companies in our industry. Prosperity Homes is open to what is your interest. For me personally it is homelessness, and Jeremiah has provided a platform, which is open for me to take action.
JF: Phoenix Mortgage Group, of our co-founder Francisco, has made it possible for Prosperity Homes to completely focus its attention on charity by taking over the overhead and paying the payroll for Prosperity Homes. When agents now join, and donate, they know the full amount goes towards the charity, and not to my salary.
LL: I noticed on the web page, there is also a space where you ask for donations of. Is there a minimum?
JF: I kind of feel like we should all give back what we can afford. I remember as a child, seeing images of children suffering, and that immediately brings a feeling of guilt. Do I want to give out of guilt? Would I want to receive out of guilt? Not necessarily. We really just want to invite people to do what feels good to give out of their hearts. One person can afford $5 a month, and another $100 or $1000.
Our biggest partners are the Mortgage Phoenix Group, Monaco Realty, and Monte Carlo Escrow. They are giving a very generous donation for every transaction that is coming through their companies. But really more than anything, it is about how many people we can empower to take control of their life. We want to expose this movement to as many professional as possible that would like to be a part of this. The more people that join, the more good we can do.
SMS: Earlier you told us most of your projects are outside of the US, but Daniel also mentioned about projects you are doing here locally. Can you tell us something about that?
DL: Well locally, I feed the homeless people at least 2 – 3 times per week. This group of people meets every day of the week to feed people on Skid Row, at 7:30 in the evening, rain or shine. They prep food, and feed between 200 – 800 people. The homeless population in Los Angeles continues to grow. I want to be involved with stopping the flow of homelessness, and especially families and kids. If we can do something about the ones that are on the brink of becoming homeless and empower them, then you catch them in the perfect time. They will still have the hope and the energy. As I have three kids myself, avoiding homelessness amongst them is very close to my heart. So for that reason it is important to bring professionals into Prosperity Homes and grow this organization from a few hundred to thousands of people. If we want to create the kind of communities of empowerment that Jeremiah is talking about here in the USA, it takes a big collective effort, including the government. The dream is to have government donate land, and our organization can build the infrastructure for self-sustainable communities.
SMS: So the dream is to take this project a lot further than just housing? Building self-sustainable communities?
JF: The vision is to empower real estate professionals with the power to really make a difference in communities. Daniel is an example of a Prosperity Homes ambassador, finding his passion and going back to his community and have a positive impact. Right now we are working in San Bernardino, where next month we will be working with a women shelter, for domestic violence against women and children. Daniel is working with the homeless… So anyone who comes aboard can find his or her own type of passion and interest to give back to.
In Part Two we’ll discuss the kind of projects that Prosperity Homes is working on, the effect of social entrepreneurship on the business and how people can get involved.