Poplar: Concilio Helps Community Make Informed Decisions

It is not an exaggeration to say that there are hundreds of concerns that come to mind during the process of buying a home. From qualifying for mortgages to what to look for in a property, it’s hard to do everything right without help. The Council of Spanish Speaking Organizations – simply known as Concilio – has been helping to solve this problem with a workshop held every first Tuesday of the month at their headquarters on 705 N. Franklin Street.

The workshops lasts for around three hours, starting at 5 p.m. Pizza and coffee are usually served. A recent workshop featured a presentation from Concilio’s housing counselor Estela Carrasco, along with several other speakers. Participants asked questions about mortgages and other aspects of buying a home. Those who attended the workshop also chipped in with advice from their own buying or renting experiences.

Lizette Torres working at her desk
Lizette Torres of Concilio working at her desk

“It helps them to understand how the real estate process works, how credit score comes into play, what function a real estate agent has, the list goes on,” said Lizette Torres, Concilio’s youth and family development manager. “It’s understanding the responsibility that entails becoming a homeowner.”

Concilio was founded in 1962 as a beacon for the Latino community. More than fifty years later, that mission still stands but they welcome anyone who is in need of help.

“Since we are a Latino agency, we get more Latinos because of the language barrier,” said Carrasco. “But we serve everybody in general.”

Carrasco finds that even if a person seeking help is bilingual, they will more often than not request to talk to someone who speaks Spanish. Carrasco spoke in both Spanish and English for the workshop to cater to those in attendance who spoke only one or the other. Though she’s held other jobs, Carrasco said that helping people in the community she’s lived in for over forty years with real estate concerns is her passion in life.

Estela Carrasco at Concilio's monthly community housing advisement workshop.
Estela Carrasco at Concilio’s monthly community housing advisement workshop.

“It’s something that I like to do naturally,” said Carrasco. “Even if I’m not working or getting paid, I like advising people.”

For Torres, it comes down to making sure that people are making informed decisions.

“I have a personal passion when it comes to helping those who wouldn’t as readily receive the same information as those who might be in better socio-economic situation,” said Torres.

Since Concilio works with anyone who seeks their help within the city, they have been able to see the housing boom in Poplar – as well as nearby Northern Liberties and Fishtown – from different angles, both positive and negative.

“There are a lot of reasons that go into making gentrification happen and that’s one reality we deal with,” said Torres. “But it can also give an economic boost by having new folks come in and invest in the community and buy property. So there’s two polar things happening at the same time.”

Concilio deals primarily with lower-income families looking to become more “mortgage reliable,” a term used to describe the ideal house buying candidate that is able to have a steady paycheck and pay bills on time. As the housing market slowly reconciles itself and the scrutiny on the home buyer becomes stronger, it has become harder for low-income families to receive outside financial help. Because of this, Concilio has also been dealing more with potential renters compared to potential buyers.

Concilio’s seemingly never-ending list of available services includes tenant’s rights issues help, foreclosure prevention and home repair.

Outside of property assistance, Concilio has a rich history of helping the Latino community in all facets of life, from health outreach programs and foster care to after school programs and the annual Puerto Rican festival, which is comprised of the Puerto Rican Day Parade and the annual Puerto Rican Awards Gala.

– Text, video and images by Daniel Craig and Kevin Stairiker.

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