High Hopes

Gena Jefferson wants to pursue her dreams of property ownership in a very expensive housing market

At age 43, Rev. Gena Jefferson has accomplished a great deal, but she wants to do more.

“I did everything I was told to do as a child — go to school, work hard — but I don’t feel like I have anything to show for it,” says Jefferson, who lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Jefferson has three master’s degrees: one in education from Long Island University, the second in social work from Fordham University, and a third in educational administration and supervision from Touro College. She earns $69,600 as a social worker with the New York City Board of Education, a job she’s had since 1996. For seven years prior to that, she was a special education teacher in New York City. So why all the anxiety? “I haven’t bought my first house,” she says.

Jefferson also hopes to buy real estate so she can house a center that offers a variety of children’s services-everything from fine arts programs to therapy and tutoring.

Since she is an independent interfaith minister, Jefferson would like her center to have a spiritual flavor. “I want a one-stop shop that serves children’s needs,” she says. “If everything is under one roof, it will be easier for everyone involved.”

Jefferson figures her center can become a home for existing children’s programs that have had proven success. Before she opens the center, she wants to intern at other nonprofits to learn from program managers in preparation to run her own operation one day. “I want to be more than the landlord. I want to know what it takes to run these programs,” says Jefferson.

She hopes to find a site that can accommodate her idea soon. Unfortunately, she can’t afford to purchase a building for her dream center and a home of her own at the same time. “What should I do first?” she asks.

She searched diligently for a one-family home last summer but gave up because prices were between $400,000 and $500,000, higher than the $370,000 she was pre-approved for. “I don’t want to be tied to [an unaffordable] mortgage, to get so in debt that I have to work two jobs to pay for it. Then I won’t be able to save for my business,” she says.

Right now, Jefferson has saved $75,000 in her 403(b), $6,000 in a regular savings account, and $18,000 in a money market account. Her biggest obstacle is the $30,000 she owes in student loans. She also owes $11,000 on her 2003 Honda Pilot and $5,000 on credit cards.

While real estate is her primary focus, Jefferson has other goals as well. She intends to pursue a doctorate in social work, and one day she hopes to get married and adopt children. She knows developing a financial plan now is critical to her success.

“In five years I see myself not only with a home but at least one center, even if it has to be small,” she says optimistically.

The Advice
To assist Jefferson in pursuing her financial goals, we enlisted Vicki R. Brackens, a financial planner with MetLife.

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