Rewriting his life story to achieve his dreams: Chris’ inspiring journey

December 7th, 2020
Chris Marshall and his kids Layla, Santino, and Daisy on the porch of their new home.

When Chris Marshall moved his family into their own home over Thanksgiving, it realized a hope he has held since he was child. At the same time, it opened a promising new chapter in his life story.

“I believe you can rewrite your story through knowledge and opportunity,” said Chris, 31. “At important points in my life, I made the choice to change the pain and sadness into a positive beginning.”

Chris is the 32nd new homeowner through Southwest Solutions’ Newberry program. Newberry is an 8-block area in the Chadsey-Condon neighborhood in southwest Detroit. In Newberry, Southwest Solutions acquired 60 single-family houses that were rental properties to transition them to affordable homeownership.

Chris has been involved with Southwest Solutions’ programs for almost 12 years. It began with our job training program that provided instruction and certifications in weatherization. When he joined the program, Chris was working in an auto-parts store in southwest Detroit. He had moved to the area when he turned 16 to reunite with his mother, who was trying to overcome her addiction problems. Because of those problems, which afflicted his father as well, Chris experienced a very unstable childhood. He was in and out of the foster care system repeatedly. At 13, he was removed from his parents’ custody for good.

“I didn’t grow up the way kids should, and I had to take care of myself since I was a boy,” Chris said. “But I still loved my mom and wanted to help her change her life. Unfortunately, she died of cirrhosis of the liver when I was 20.”

His mother’s death happened at a turning point in Chris’ life. His first child was about to be born. He had successfully completed the weatherization training and then gained work in the field. Chris was earning a livable wage.

The job training program also provided support services to help participants address other needs besides employment. Chris needed good and affordable housing for his family, and he asked Southwest Solutions’ Mac Elabed for assistance. Mac connected Chris with our Housing division, and Chris was able to rent a townhome near Mexicantown that we had renovated. Chris’ family lived in the townhouse until they moved into their Newberry home.

Mac also provided Chris with financial coaching to improve his credit. In addition, he connected Chris with the Street Outreach Court Detroit program to take care of driving tickets and fees. As a result, Chris was able to purchase a good used car.

After his job training, Chris built a diligent work history and then parlayed that experience into a job at Chrysler on the east side. Having a car allowed him to get to and from his job readily.

When the Covid crisis hit in the spring, Chris was laid off from his Chrysler job. There was a delay in his unemployment assistance. Chris’ fiancée Melissa works for Covenant Community Care, but she needed to take time off to help the couple’s three children with their remote schooling. With the sudden drop in income, the family fell behind in rent. The property management team at Southwest Solutions helped Chris apply for the state’s Eviction Diversion Program (EDP), and Chris was able to secure rental assistance to pay off much of the arrears.

During his layoff, Chris decided to use the time to work toward his goal of starting his own small business. He enrolled in the ProsperUS Detroit program, which provides training and support services to help aspiring small business entrepreneurs. ProsperUS recently became its own nonprofit organization, after being started and developed by Southwest Solutions. Chris will graduate from ProsperUS in mid-December. He wants to start a real estate and home rehab business in the city.

Southwest Solutions’ Vernor Townhomes, where Chris’ family lived before moving into their Newberry home. This photo was taken after a volunteer neighborhood beautification effort that included landscaping at the Townhomes.

Chris has now been called back to work at Chrysler, and the family’s finances are stable as they begin their homeownership. As part of the process of becoming a Newberry homeowner, Chris completed the Homebuyer Education class offered by Southwest Solutions.

Chris’ mortgage payments for his new home, including taxes and insurance, are about the same as the rental payments he was paying for the townhome that the family left. It’s a 15-year mortgage. The purchase price for the home was $59,000. The closing costs were covered through a grant from the Sam L. and Judith G. Yaker Fund, which specifically supports the Newberry affordable homeownership program.

“Chris is someone who has shown an incredible ability to seek out and then work hard to fulfill opportunities to better his life and his family’s,” said Dan Pederson, who helps oversee the Newberry program. “He is also someone determined to give back, and his leadership is a great addition to the neighborhood.”

Over the years of participating in Southwest Solutions’ programs, Chris has been an active volunteer in our neighborhood beautification and other efforts. He also attended community leadership training conducted by NeighborWorks.

“The Newberry neighborhood has a lot of potential,” Chris said. “It’s a good investment to build equity, and a good place to raise our kids. I’ve been through a lot in life that I want to make sure my kids never experience themselves. I also want them to understand that they, too, can write their own life stories if they set their minds to it.”

We thank the Home Builders Association Charitable & Education Foundation for its generous donation to help us renovate homes in the Newberry neighborhood to create affordable homeownership opportunities for families like Chris Marshall’s.

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