Blia Cha is a Hmong woman born in Laos. She left school at the age of six, due to her family being constantly on the move during the Vietnam War. Ever since she was a child, she helped her aunt sell items in the countryside. As a teenager, she traveled to the big cities to bring back items to sell.
Cha came to the US in 1976 while she was seven months pregnant. She moved to Fort Smith Arkansas with her husband and child. They had no family there and had a hard time finding work. Eventually, they moved to Denver along with 12 other families. While in Denver, they attended an ELS program to learn English and typing. There, she discovered that she was pregnant with twins. At that time they were on government assistance and had to use the General Hospital, which had a bad reputation for the care they were giving. Cha and her husband were so scared of the healthcare available in Denver that they decided to move. Cha's aunt and uncle told her that their doctor in Milwaukee was good, so she made the decision to move closer to her relatives. The 12 families that made the move the Denver also came with them. In Milwaukee they were able to make friends in their aunt and uncle's church. However, they had difficulty finding housing for the 12 families that moved with them. Hmong families are large and most Milwaukee landlords wanted to rent to families of four or less. With the help of her aunt and uncle’s church, the 12 families were provided with used clothing and household items.
In Milwaukee, Cha worked many different factory jobs but kept getting laid off. She also worked as a translator for the health department. In 1993 she was working but also going to school to get her GED. It was during that time that she heard that her friend bought a house for $1. Cha had the idea of buying a couple of houses to fix them up and rent them out. It was then when she met John Worm from ACTS Housing.
John Worm asked if she knew of any friends and family who would be interested in buying properties and attending a home sale event. Many of Cha's friends and family attended the event. John Worm offered her a job at ACTS because she had been able to attract so many people to this event. However, Cha didn't think she could handle working with ACTS and getting her real estate license at the same time. Nevertheless, she agreed to work at ACTS part time and finish school. She was interested in real estate and wanted to find a stable job after getting laid off so many times.
Cha has been with ACTS for 22 years and has noticed a lot of growth in the last five years. She defines her job as keeping up with files daily, as every file has a deadline. She consults with interested buyers, explains the cost of home ownership and tells them the difference between renting and owning. Cha also processes pre-approvals, writes offers when a families find a house they like, and helps buyers in the home-buying process. Many rely on her because they don't read or speak English.
Cha hasn't had much time lately to take a vacation. The first thing she does when she enters her office is check her email and schedule. Then she listens to her voice-mails. She is constantly on the phone, calling buyers and lenders to push a deal towards closing. She checks her files every day to keep things current and moving. Cha works after hours to show houses when it’s convenient to the buyer.
Cha says that there is still a lot of work to do in the community. There are things like job loss. She's glad that her buyers are doing well because their property taxes are low and they are able to use the money they save to support their families and children's education.
Cha moved to Greenfield to raise her family. After her children grew up and moved out, she was left with a big house and a mortgage. So Cha and her husband moved back to this neighborhood and downsized in house and cost of living. This move also shortening her commute to work. The house she bought was a foreclosure. It was boarded up and had a leaking roof. However, she liked the yard and the potential of fixing up this property. She has transformed the house to meet her family's needs, adding a new garage and driveway. Cha's family did some of the work themselves and hired contractors to do the rest. Then, she bought two neighboring houses, one next door and one across the street, once these buildings went into foreclosure and ended up being boarded up. Cha was worried that the abandoned property might bring problems into her neighborhood. Her son and daughter now live in the two homes.
Cha purchased these houses to protect her block. She likes paying less in property taxes and living a neighborhood where she can make friends. She also enjoys using her garden and she often gives away produce to people in the neighborhood. In this way she has made many friends.
Blia Cha, Interviewed by Joe Gaudreau, Esme Barniskis, Murray Smith, June 2016