"We’re not just arranging mortgages, we’re touching lives"
January 1, 2016
When Rosa Ortiz arrived in the U.S. from Ecuador, she was carrying only a backpack. A single mother with children to support, Rosa was soon balancing two jobs and riding three buses each way to get from one to the other. And at night she took English classes.
There were plenty of challenges, but Rosa managed to build a life for herself and her kids in Northeast Minneapolis — known as "Nordeast" — a hard-working community with a diverse mix of immigrants from all over the world. For Rosa, the ultimate goal was clear: "I wanted the American dream — to own a home of my own."
Over the years, through careful saving, she managed to set aside enough for a down payment. But there was one problem: she had no credit history.
A meeting of minds
Fernando Cortez is a manager with BMO Harris Bank in Minneapolis. He helps customers with low-to-moderate incomes buy homes, guiding them to mortgage products that fit the standards set out by the federal Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). Fernando has a deep understanding of the needs of recent immigrants — so when Rosa Ortiz arrived at his door two years ago, he was ready to help.
"I remember it was the end of the day," he recalls, "and I was about to leave when Rosa walked in. She was on a work break and had exactly 17 minutes to talk. She was worried that she’d never be able to buy a home if she didn’t establish a credit rating. But the process was so overwhelming she didn’t know where to start. I told her, ‘We’ll walk you through it step by step. It’ll take some time, but together we’re going to make this happen. Are you in?’ And Rosa said, ‘Yes, I’m in!’"
Fernando offered tips on saving money and explained how a credit history is built. With his guidance, Rosa set up various automated payments and ensured that her account balance could always cover them. And after 10 months of following the plan, Fernando called with good news: she had established a solid credit profile and could now start house hunting. A month later, she’d bought her first home.
Home sweet home
"When we came to the U.S.," Rosa says, "I never expected that one day we’d be able to afford a place of our own." She speaks with pride of the life she’s created for her boys, aged four and 18, and how her older son now has his own room where he can study as he prepares for college, hoping one day to become a pilot. "For us," she says, "this is not just a house — it’s a home."
Rosa still drops by the bank branch regularly, updating Fernando on any improvements she’s made — another piece of furniture, a newly painted room — since he was at the housewarming. "Fernando told me if I followed the right steps, I could become a homeowner," she says. "And he came through. I’m so grateful for everything he’s done for us."
"My passion comes from helping others," Fernando says, "and Rosa’s story is a great example of how we can make a difference. I can’t really know what it’s like to struggle the way she has, but I see that she’s a happier, more confident person. And I know it’s because we try to bring an extra human touch to everything we do. That’s true right across this underserved community, as we take the powerful knowledge we have and pay it forward, helping people like Rosa succeed. We’re not just arranging their mortgages, we’re touching their lives."