Featured in the Newsletter

Change Begins at Home
By Susan L. Wampler
from USC Price Community Connections Spring 2005

Allison Tom-Miura is combining her tenacity, her considerable experience in the nonprofit, financial and government arenas, and the knowledge she gained in the master’s and doctorate programs at the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development to help the working poor realize the dream of home ownership.

Since January 2004, she has served as mortgage finance director of Los Angeles Trade-Technical College (LATTC) and vice president of its affiliated Community Development Technologies Center (CDTech).

“I wear a couple of hats,” she says. One involves running an academic department – the mortgage finance program – which was created by the Fannie Mae Foundation six years ago to train principally people of color to enter the field of mortgage lending with the goal of reducing discrimination in the housing industry. “I’m reshaping our entire academic program, raising money, and hiring faculty,” she says.

“I’m using what I learned at USC,” says Tom-Miura, who completed her doctorate in planning and development studies in 2004 and her master’s in planning, with a specialization in community economic development and real estate development, in 1997. “We’re making this a cutting-edge curriculum. A number of my students have gone on to study in the graduate program at USC and I still use my USC classmates as guest speakers.”

In her other role, as VP of CDTech, Tom-Miura recently received a $150,000 grant from the Center for Financial Services Innovation to pilot an Employer Assisted Housing Program. “This initiative aims to deliver a comprehensive suite of workplace-based financial services to help low- and moderate-income workers buy homes and accumulate wealth,” she explains. Services include credit assessment and improvement, personal credit planning and support services, affordable cash-management products, and appropriate loan and insurance products.
“We work with a lot of employers in the garment and food manufacturing industries,” she says. “Most of their workers don’t have banking accounts, so they pay to cash their check, pay to wire money home. It’s a waste of time and money for both the employer and the employee in terms of lost productivity and unnecessary transactional expenses.”

The program allows workers to receive their pay on a payroll debit card that has a savings element, through which employees can regularly save a portion of their paychecks toward a down-payment on a house. In addition, CDTech offers a variety of financial-literacy educational programs and also works with housing developers to find affordable housing options.

“We’re a one-stop shop,” she says. “We’re an extension of a lending and housing agency. We assess their credit rating, find out whether they’re eligible, get them pre-qualified for a loan, and assist with the entire process of buying a home.”

The new Employer Assisted Housing Program builds on CDTech’s innovation in establishing the nation’s first employer-based Individual Development Account program – a tax-free way for low-income individuals to save money toward home ownership, pay for higher education, or start a business. CDTech is assisting United Way to replicate the model locally and nationally.
Tom-Miura says she was attracted to USC Price because of the strength of USC’s program in real estate development and finance. “That’s where the power is,” she says. “It’s the key to redeveloping and revitalizing the inner cities.”

After earning her undergraduate degree in political science at UC Santa Barbara, Tom-Miura moved to Los Angeles upon her acceptance into the Coro Fellow Program – a highly selective public-affairs training program that brings together individuals from a wide range of backgrounds for intensive, interdisciplinary leadership training in the business, government, media and nonprofit sectors.

“After working in nonprofits and in the field of substance-abuse prevention doing public-policy advocacy for five years, I wanted to see tangible changes in the physical and economic environments,” says Tom-Miura of her decision to enter the master’s and doctorate programs at USC Price. “By changing people’s physical environments and providing them with tools and resources, you can have a positive impact on their lives in countless other ways.”