Del-Metrius Herron talks about the lack of housing in Topeka during an interview with Kansas Reflector June 9 in Keller Williams One Legacy Partners. (Sam Bailey/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — When Del-Metrius Herron earned her real estate agent license in 2016, she didn’t think anyone would buy a house from her. Now a full-time agent, she helps Topeka buyers find homes while working in the community to combat the housing crisis.
From 2017 to 2018, Herron was deployed to the Middle East. When she returned to the United States, she thought she would work in cybersecurity at the Department of Defense, but she moved to Topeka when her son got sick. A single mother, Herron chose to put her son first and worked as an IT specialist with the National Guard while working as a part-time real estate agent.
Herron became a full-time agent at Keller Williams One Legacy Partners in 2019.
“I love the opportunity to meet and talk to people, and learn about people,” Herron said. “And I also love that it’s afforded me the freedom to really get in the community, get connected, and really speaking to the issues that I’m passionate about.”
YWCA Northeast Kansas is bringing attention to the affordable housing crisis and people like Herron who work to make housing more accessible during the second week of its Racial Justice Challenge, a monthlong series of online resources focusing on different topics affecting minority groups. The first week of the challenge focused on people with disabilities. In the coming weeks, the challenge will examine music and mental health. Kansas Reflector is a community partner in the challenge.
As part of Herron’s work, she helps first-time buyers find homes where they feel safe and can build their futures.
“I would say a majority of my clients are people who are like, ‘I don’t know what to do, help me.’ And I love that,” Herron said. “I love that because I feel like, if I’m empowering people, I’m not helping them buy a house, I am empowering them. Because I don’t make decisions for people. I give you the tools, information and resources for you to make a sound decision, and I’m just here to be, you know, your little bumper rails, so you don’t go too far left too far right, that we’re going down the right path.”
One of the struggles individuals looking for homes face is the lack of housing, especially housing that is in a reasonable condition, Herron said.
“When you’re thinking about quality housing, that is part of the issue, especially in Topeka,” she said. “We actually have enough houses to meet our demand for housing — 11% of it is sitting vacant, or needs to be remodeled and reconstructed, and there’s just not a lot of funding programs around that solution.”
Ways to improve the situation include incentivizing investors and developers to fix old buildings and giving people the confidence and resources they need to buy the homes themselves and renovate them, Herron said.
A lack of affordable housing is another challenge. For example, a first-time homebuyer may struggle if they are unable to submit a cash offer, while a second-time homeowner is able to put down a cash offer with money received from selling their previous house.
The challenges are not limited to people living below the poverty line. Herron said even if an individual makes $50,000 a year, the cost of a house may be more than 30% of their income.
Additionally, many of Topeka’s older buildings do not meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards, making accessibility a challenge, Herron said.
In a YWCA discussion panel about the Racial Justice Challenge and difficulties faced by community members, Phelica Glass, a therapist and social worker in Topeka, said rent is so high some people can’t afford to live in homes that are accessible to people with disabilities.
“One of the young women pastors at our church, she is a person who is without a limb, and so she literally has to walk up three flights of stairs because she cannot find housing that is suitable for her in the same income bracket of what she would be able to function and continue to live,” Glass said. “I need — we need — our community members to be able to link up and say, ‘Girl that bothers you. It bothers me.’ We need to be able to stick our chest out not just for the things that impact me, but for the things that impact my entire community.”
In addition to trying to find homes, members of minority groups also tend to have anxiety about being discriminated against, both in buying and selling homes, Herron said.
“I’ve had a seller ask me, ‘Hey, should I take my family pictures down? Should I take, you know, anything that would show that I am a person of color, should I remove that from my home so that it will sell better?’ ” Herron said. “And that is not a question — I work with clients of all races, genders, you know, sexual orientation — but the questions I get from my Black and brown clients are completely different. They, you know, they have other concerns outside of just value.”
These concerns have roots in history, with policies and systems used to discriminate against Black people and their ability to buy homes. One tactic included labeling maps to show where minority residents lived, classifying them as too risky to mortgage. This practice, known as redlining, effectively limited where businesses and white homeowners would reside, according to an article by NPR.
“Once you understand history, I think you have a lot more grace and understanding for the future,” Herron said.
Herron is happy the YWCA is bringing attention to these subjects and said it is good for all people to have these discussions. Even individuals who are part of a minority group may not know everything there is to know, Herron said.
“I want anyone to know if there’s something that you want to see change, change it, educate yourself, figure out what’s going on,” Herron said. “Be humble, serve. Get into your community and get involved, and if you see something, say something and be part of the solution.”
Tara Wallace, a therapist who does advocacy work for the YWCA, hopes to buy a home soon but said she is not comfortable staying in Topeka. A lifelong Topeka resident, she said she doesn’t feel welcome after experiencing discrimination where she lives. Herron worked with her through this process to try and find a new home for her family.
“She’s amazing,” Wallace said. “She is absolutely amazing. And I love being able to show her as an example to especially young women who think, ‘I don’t know, I don’t think I can do this.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh no, no, no, no, no, I need to show you someone.’ And her story is there, and I can send them the link so they can listen to everything that she’s accomplished. Yeah, so she’s a great role model.”
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