When Lori Rogers saw the slum-like conditions some St. John’s residents were living in, she felt determined to do something to help.
It was heartbreaking, she said, to see an old wire hanger hooked into a door in place of a knob; to be asked by an elderly couple whether she could replace their stove — only one burner worked, one of the seniors told her.
The bathrooms in several apartments were so run down, Rogers says, it was difficult to fathom how anyone could feel comfortable in such conditions.
What made the situations that much worse, was that many of the people living in the apartments were on income support and battling mental illnesses.
After seeing too many people living in deplorable apartments, Rogers formed Right Turn Investments in 2009 and started purchasing and restoring older homes.
“I was so embarrassed to be buying those properties knowing how poor they looked,” the 44-year-old says.
Her goal was that after she restored the homes, she’d rent them to single parents, people with mental health issues, those leaving shelters, former inmates of Her Majesty’s Penitentiary and others who many landlords would turn their backs on.
Rogers bought her first rental property at 21. She currently rents 19 one- and two-bedroom apartments in nine homes in St. John’s and has formed partnerships within the community to help her make her tenants feel at home.
Whether it’s a local carpet factory donating a piece of flooring, a furniture company offering some surplus product or a builder giving away a set of stairs, the partnerships are what set her business apart from others in the real estate industry.
Rogers has also partnered with St. Thomas Anglican Church to collect donations of furniture and appliances and other necessities for her tenants. The church is renting a storage unit where the donations are stored until needed.
“The partnerships are where we are able to save money and then put the savings into another property,” she says.
Volunteers from the church and from the community, as well as her tenants, pitch in and help clean up the homes once she buys them, she says.
Rogers’ partner, Roxanne Cullen, says the tenants appreciate the opportunity to contribute and feel helpful.
“Lori gives them some respect. It’s not people telling them what to do anymore. It’s Lori requesting their help. And that’s really good positive reinforcement,” Cullen says.
Listening to vulnerable people isn’t new to Rogers. She worked as an activity co-ordinator at St. Luke’s Homes in St. John’s for over a decade and in a long-term care facility in Ontario for five years where she cared for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.
Whatever the work, her outlook on life is simple: treat people with respect and get it back in return.
“People are human, and sometimes all you need is to listen to somebody. And I tell my clients I’m not above you, I’m right here by you.”
Trudy White-Morgan has been living in one of Rogers’ apartments for about eight years.
Rogers has brought stability and security to her life, the single parent says.
“She’s been wonderful to me. She helped me out when I was basically lower than low,” White-Morgan says.
The low point in her life was when her husband walked out on her and her young daughter.
“Lori and Roxanne were there for me emotionally. They gave me an ear when I really needed it.”
Rogers lowered the rent when Morgan-White became a single parent. Morgan-White helped in return by looking after the two other apartments in the building.
Morgan-White’s daughter, Morgan, is now eight years old.
Rogers has been particularly good to her daughter through the years, she says, taking her to movies and to a show at Mile One Centre.
Morgan-White says Rogers gives her daughter presents on special occasions, too.
During a visit to their home, Morgan reached for the stuffed reindeer with red and green bells tied to its antlers that Rogers gave her for Christmas.
“You put him on the table and turn him on and he sings a song and bumps around and around. I like him so much,” she says giving the toy a squeeze before placing him back on a shelf.
Morgan-White says she’s grateful to Rogers for giving her a place to call home — for the long term.
It’s great to have someone other than her elderly father and brothers to depend on, she says.
“Lori has always been kind to me and Morgan. And I know, if it comes to the crunch, her and Roxanne will be here for me.”
Rev. John Paul Westin, rector of St. Thomas Church, says Rogers is making a difference in many people’s lives. His congregation and other people in the community are quick to donate items for her apartments, he says, as they know they are helping vulnerable people.
“A lot of landlords aren’t interested in having people with mental health problems as tenants. Lori is providing the housing but she’s also providing support and friendship. Almost like a family relationship.”