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Watts class makes realty dreams reality

Students get help earning their licenses while their new skills help others buy homes.

August 10, 2003|Diane Wedner | Times Staff Writer

Darnell Conley couldn't believe his good luck when a Los Angeles Youth Opportunity Movement-Watts counselor approached him last spring to sign up for a new real estate licensing class that would begin in June. He quickly jumped on board.

This week, Conley will join four other students at YO! Watts, as the youth opportunity program is popularly called, at a graduation ceremony that will mark the completion of the first phase of the licensing process.

"This is a dream come true," said Conley, 21, a three-year YO! Watts participant. "I'm so happy to get to take advantage of this program at such a young age."

The idea of a real estate education course at YO! Watts was the brainchild of Rande Smith, 24, a counselor at the youth program that provides education, training and employment opportunities for 14- to 21-year-olds. Smith had recently completed the real estate licensing class himself.

In March, Smith approached Christine Sanchez, a real estate broker and service manager at Anthony Schools, which provides real estate courses statewide, with the idea of bringing the licensing classes to the students in Watts rather than trying to transport them to an Anthony Schools site. She readily agreed.

"Any time you see someone young taking an interest in owning a home, it's exciting," said Sanchez, who tailored the courses to meet the students' schedules. "This is a challenging course, and they finished it. Many people don't."

YO! Watts, which is funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor and operated by the City of Los Angeles Community Development Department, paid the students' expenses of $395 per person, Smith said.

The students have completed the course on state laws and realty board requirements and are studying for the state licensing exam, for which they'll receive preparation from Anthony Schools.

In addition to getting their real estate licenses, the students are learning about the advantages of homeownership, an important piece of their education, Sanchez said. A U.S. Census Bureau report revealed that in 2002 the black homeownership rate was 48%, compared with a national rate of 68%.

Among the barriers to homeownership facing minorities is a lack of understanding and information about the home buying process, according to housing experts. The goal of the Anthony Schools-YO! Watts program is to help the students establish a career in real estate and help their families and community members become homeowners, Sanchez said.

Student Kenisha Woodard, 21, expects a bright future.

"The program was fun and very energetic," Woodard said. "I have a lot of confidence that I'll pass the licensing exam and get into a field I've always wanted."

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