I often take my personal vehicle for granted because automobiles in my line of work are so common. I think nothing of it as I jump in my vehicle to run errands, attend meetings, and go see friends. I think nothing of it when, during an auto show, I visit with consumers about trim packages and performance capabilities of a particular model.
However, this is something Josephine Castillo, a Dallas area resident, is not accustomed to. Lacking the freedom reliable transportation provides is a battle she knows all to well.
Castillo is bright and bubbly, chatting with me one sunny afternoon as she clocks out from her job at a nearby call center. While she is proud of her long history in customer service, the self-described “parenting, grandparent” speaks with a particular warmth regarding the four grandchildren she is now raising; ages 10, 8, 3, and 4. Castillo derives strength from them, especially as she finishes her bachelor’s degree in Christian studies through Grand Canyon University.
“I am the first in my family to attend college, so there is a lot of new beginnings here, but I was nervous when I started,” she said. “I dropped out of school growing up, and even though my mother tried to keep things together as best she could, I still had a broken home.”
Castillo then recalls her battles with empty nest syndrome in 2013, an event sometimes experienced by parents when their children leave home for the first time. Despite her best efforts, she fell into a deep depression which later lead to the loss of her job, car, and residence.
“I don’t know, I guess it just hit me really hard,” Castillo said. “I got so sad I just couldn’t get myself out of bed.”
To make matters more pressing, by the time 2014 arrived, Castillo was now, through a series of difficult circumstances, the primary caregiver for her grandchildren. Little by little, she climbed her way out of debt.
“I was on the train, on the bus, going to work, taking the classes to become a certified adoptive parent, and taking the kids to daycare,” Castillo recalled.
Limited Access, Maximum Stress
When Castillo was volunteering with the Salvation Army, she learned about On the Road Lending, a Dallas-based organization that provides affordable loans for reliable, late-model cars. Although Dallas has a substantial mass transit system, especially in terms of light rail, less than 15 percent of the jobs in the area are reachable through it. In Dallas County alone, where On the Road Lending is located, 68 percent of households have subprime credit, about 550,000 families. Furthermore, about 10 percent of the vehicles (around 489,000 cars) in North Texas have failed emissions testing, and are predominantly registered to low-income families.
“Access is critical to everything in life. We have to get to our jobs, get our kids to school, go to the store, get to the doctor, or see friends,” said Michelle Corson, Founder and CEO, On the Road Lending. “If you are trapped without a reliable car or you are trying to make mass transit work, it creates a tremendous amount of stress.”
In 2015, The Atlantic penned a commentary about how mass transit is failing those who need it most, from mechanical problems and fare increases, to excessive wait times and limited access. Those resolved to using public transit often combat these shortcomings daily. Corson, with her finance background, created On the Road Lending to tackle social concerns like this.
“I saw transportation was an issue in Texas, and even though we have the largest mass transit system in the U.S. in Dallas in terms of linear rail miles, very few people use it,” Corson said. “I thought we could provide a way for low-income families to buy a good car if we created an impact investment loan fund where we could enable them to purchase something better at a lower cost.”
Meanwhile, Castillo struggled to get around and maintain life with the children now in her care. One thing they enjoyed most was going to church as a family, but she did not have the luxury of a leisurely Sunday drive. Getting to a morning service was near impossible.
“We might be able to get there on the bus, but maybe not back; or becasue of the particular day a church activity fell on, we could only make it halfway, then have to walk, if we even made it at all,” Castillo recalled. “When we couldn’t be there it really took a drain on us becasue we were missing out.”
Through On the Road Lending’s character-based model, Castillo was able to obtain an affordable loan for a 2013 Nissan Quest. It’s reliable with enough room for her grandchildren, but without On the Road Lending, owning such a vehicle would have been impossible for Castillo. Through character-based lending however, she had a second chance.
“Credit scores developed and became a way that lenders could evaluate risk quickly,” Corson explained. “We had a suspicion that credit scores might not be the best predictor of a person’s ability to be a responsible borrower.”
On the Road Lending’s model examines other factors, such as how long a person has been employed or lived at their current residence. The model even covers how willing an applicant is to own their past mistakes, and includes a personal essay as one of the requirements.
“I want to be a person of integrity and a person of my word,” Castillo said. “I used to quit things in a heartbeat; I used to run from things, but I want to set a new example and have a good name.”
Corson was close to the automotive business for 15 years, while Chief Operating Officer, Mary Burnett once owed three dealerships. Both Corson and Burnett leveraged their knowledge of the car business to build a network of dealerships across Texas. One of the most vital is Toyota of Richardson, a large Toyota store in the Dallas/Ft. Worth region which serves about 80 percent of On The Road Lending’s clients.
“They understand what our organization is all about and they are very kind to our clients, which is of the utmost importance to us,” Corson said. “They recognize that our clients don’t have a lot of time to spend at the dealership and that many are very vulnerable.”
When Burnett and Corson first visited Toyota of Richardson, they were impressed with the level of customer service. The dealership is known for its transparency and community roots going back over 30 years. The average employee has stayed there for over a decade, with many pushing the 15 to 25 year mark. After visiting dozens of dealerships in the area, Corson and Burnett took an instant liking to Toyota of Richardson.
“They explained to me their overall mission and gave me some insight into their clients and expectations for partnering dealers,” said Brian Pacheco, Sales Director, Toyota of Richardson. “The program is designed to empower individuals by providing knowledge and encouragement, along with the means of reliable transportation, to better their life and the lives’ of their family.”
Like Corson and Burnett, Pacheco was also concerned with the number of people who either had a high mileage, unreliable vehicle, or no vehicle at all.
“We are working to provide reliable transportation and quality financing options to individuals that would have previously resorted to “buy-here, pay-here” lots and other situations that result in predatory lending,” he said.
On the Road Lending’s character based-model is a natural pairing with Toyota of Richardson’s sales approach.
“We train our staff on being straightforward and honest, and we pride ourselves in hiring quality people to interact with our customers,” Pacheco said. “The staff here have taken a personal interest in the well-being of On the Road Lending clients, and our salespeople commonly talk about how grateful the clients are and how rewarding it is to be part of the process.”
“We have nothing but good things to say about their entire organization,” Corson added.
Serenity & Solutions
Currently, On the Road Lending is active in Texas but is potentially expanding to 20 additional markets by 2022. Those who wish to inquire about loans may do so through the organization’s website.
“Very few people understand that transportation is a huge issue for lower-income families,” Corson said. “We are working hard to raise awareness, as well as to provide a practical solution for people that is both immediate and lasting.”
“I had to make some changes in my life but they helped me, they really helped me,” Castillo said. “Having a reliable car has eliminated so much stress, especially for little things like running to the store to get a loaf of bread.”
Carl Anthony is Managing Editor of Automoblog and resides in Detroit, Michigan.