What does affordable housing mean to you?

A Farmer's Fight

by Yuqi Wang, Bill Emerson National Hunger Fellow

Rural Voices - Fall 2014This story appears in the Fall 2014 issue of Rural VoicesMr. Lee was a poultry farmer in the small town of Vinita, Oklahoma, just an hour northeast of Tulsa. He lost his home and farm to a bank before he had a chance to save them. “It’s too late for you to do anything about it”, the bank said to Mr. Lee as he scrambled to pay the overdue mortgages that he wasn’t even aware he had. Within months his farm and home were closed and sold.

Originally from Laos, Mr. Lee came to the United States in 1987 as a refugee of the Vietnam War. Mr. Lee’s family was one of many Hmong families that migrated to the Ozarks. After visiting his cousin’s poultry farm, Mr. Lee decided to purchase one as well. He took a $290,000 loan from a local bank for his farm and house.

Midwest Winter Vegetable Production Project - MUExtension417Some Hmong farmers have recently experienced financial problems from faulty loans.
Photo: Creative Commons, https://flic.kr/p/gWMvVy

With this type of loan, if a borrower falls short on their mortgage payments, everything on the land can be taken by the bank, including the house. This was exactly what happened to Mr. Lee. When Mr. Lee asked for help, the bank told him “It’s too late.” Later, the court informed him that he had lost his case because the attorney a local nonprofit had secured for him failed to appear in court. After many years spent farming, Mr. Lee is currently working as a night janitor at a high school and is renting an apartment. A different local nonprofit, Hmong National Development, is working with Mr. Lee to explore his options for redress.

We are trying to create stronger linkages between farmers and housing advocates to encourage [farmers] to take advantage of those resources and information whenever they can.

“[Bank] servicing issues are a big problem for the Hmong community, and for newer immigrants,” says Bao Vang, President and CEO of the nonprofit Hmong National Development. “The bank was very unresponsive when Mr. Lee tried to contact them even before problems started and did not help him in a timely manner. This is in part due to a lack of language access where the banks very rarely provide resources and services in the language of their users.”

The Hmong National Development is creating partnerships with organizations in Arkansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma to expand services for immigrants. “We are trying to create stronger linkages between farmers and housing advocates, and we would love to be able to pass on any information to the farmers and to encourage them to take advantage of those resources and information whenever they can” says Bao.

Hmong National Development, Inc. (HND): A national, not-for-profit organization. HND is the leading nonprofit capacity building and policy advocacy organization for the Hmong American community.