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Supporting Economic Mobility and Family Wealth Creation: A Conversation with Kristopher Smith


Kristopher Smith is the Community Development Program Officer at LISC Jacksonville and brings nearly 20 years of experience in community engagement and development, grantmaking and capacity building to the organization. As part of his role with LISC Jacksonville, Kristopher supports the economic mobility of Jacksonville residents through the Family Wealth Creation Program.


The Family Wealth Creation Program helps “transfer generational wealth by assisting with financial and estate planning, probate, clearing titles, and consolidating property ownership.” The Family Wealth Creation Program builds economic mobility by alleviating the ‘silent barriers’ that constrain wealth building and structural neighborhood vulnerabilities like clouded titles, tax liens, and unclaimed tax exemptions.  


Why is an initiative like the Family Wealth Creation Program Important?


Kristopher: The ability to own a home provides stability and security and serves as a means of accumulating assets over time. As property values appreciate, homeowners can build equity to be leveraged for future opportunities such as education, business, or even generational wealth transfer. This wealth-building aspect of home ownership is crucial in fostering economic mobility, but requires clear titles and ownership upon transfer.


What led LISC Jacksonville to create the Family Wealth Creation Program?


Kristopher: In 2021, a study conducted by Auburn University (see latest research here) indicated that Jacksonville is significantly affected by heirs’ property that causes wealth deterioration among vulnerable citizens, particularly Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) families. This has resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in housing market value that is stuck in legal limbo as heirs’ property. Rather than be accessible to build generational wealth –  which is historically done through homeownership and the passing down of property from generation to generation – that value presented by heirs’ properties is completely inaccessible to the families who are the rightful, if not yet legal, heirs.


With that, LISC Jacksonville began to identify and rectify this situation by engaging local legal organizations, community development corporations, funders, and others in a three-prong approach to solving this issue locally:


Find. Finding or identifying the homes that are heirs’ property using a data-driven research process and using a community engagement team to confirm the data.


Preserve. Preserving the homes identified by connecting individuals with legal and housing resources and support to keep them in their homes.


Support. Once preserved, the focus turns to supporting and educating these households on how to avert potential future home loss. It also includes engaging the broader community overall in prevention efforts by connecting individuals needing estate planning support to available resources.


LISC Jacksonville's event in February 2023 at The Jessie that introduced heirs' property to numerous community stakeholders. Image courtesy of LISC Jacksonville website.


Can you share a story about an impact the FWC program has had or hopes to have? 


Kristopher: To date, LISC Jacksonville has secured funding from a variety of foundations and private and corporate donors to understand, address, and resolve heirs’ property, keep families in their homes, and help preserve or build generational wealth. This important work, which so far has helped more than 130 families obtain clear titles to their homes and preserve more than $6.4 million in housing value for those families, continues to build momentum.


What’s Next: How can other communities benefit from what you’ve learned?


Kristopher: According to a recent Brookings study, holdings in various investment assets (real estate holding, corporate equities, etc.) allows families to pass down ownership of the assets from generation to generation thus accruing financial returns that will sustain the long-term well-being of families. Intra-generational transfers now account for more of the racial wealth divide than any other demographic and socioeconomic indicators including education, income and household structure.


Nationally, 30% of white households receive an average inheritance of $195,000 compared to 10% of Black households that receive an average inheritance of $100,000. Because investment assets and inheritances are lightly taxed, these inequities can play a large role in perpetuating a widening racial wealth divide that will span generations. At the heart of our Heirs' Property work is the role of community development practitioners to accelerate intragenerational wealth transfer and home asset appreciation without involuntary displacement.


 

Curious about adding heirship outreach to your organization’s affordable housing strategy? Contact Fourth Economy or Kristopher Smith to discuss what this might look like in your community. In the meantime, learn more about LISC Jacksonville’s impact and the Family Wealth Creation Program here.

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