Re-entry Stories: After Clarifi counseling, Philadelphian is ready to buy a home

Formerly justice-involved citizen Akeem Sims proves that no matter your background, homeownership and financial stability are possible.

Sixteen years before he walked into a Clarifi office for financial empowerment counseling, Akeem Sims was sentenced to prison for drug possession with the intent to distribute. The Philadelphian re-entered society a year later in 2007.

Since then, he has pushed back against job rejections, financial hardships and other barriers set by his felony. He married his wife in 2021, the same year he was pardoned for his conviction.

Soon after being pardoned, Akeem started a position at an accounting firm, then came to Clarifi for personal financial counseling.

“He’s a real advocate for improving the criminal justice system,” said Jessica Nocho, his financial empowerment counselor. “He is a go-getter and a family man. He’s determined to get his family where they need to be. No dragging his feet.”

During their sessions, Jessica recommended Clarifi’s Re-entry Program: Justice-involved individuals are eligible to receive a $1,000 grant if they complete at least two financial counseling sessions. Akeem planned to put it toward starting his own accounting business, but he was let go from his full-time job while in the program and suddenly couldn’t pay rent for himself, his wife and their two daughters.

“Receiving that $1,000 afforded me the opportunity to pay my rent,” Akeem said. “Those funds came at a very crucial time for me.”

With his living situation stabilized, Akeem could focus on securing a new job and setting a realistic budget with Jessica. tightening up expenses, changing spending habits, lowering his debt-income-ratio.

Akeem Sims works on his finances and homebuying readiness with Clarifi counselor Jessica Nocho.

“She gave me feedback from a real, genuine place of wanting to see me win,” Akeem said. “When I considered gambling during intense financial situations, she pointed out the immediate and lasting implications of that, but in a way that didn’t make me feel like she was judging me.”

Within a few months, Akeem landed a finance manager position at the Philadelphia Bail Fund, a nonprofit that posts bail for people who cannot afford to do so themselves. The organization advocates for the end of cash bail in Philadelphia.

“My career is the movement,” Akeem said.

Once he got settled into his new job, Jessica encouraged him to explore homeownership — something Akeem had always considered but felt he never had the income to easily transition out of renting.

“In my experience, people honestly don’t know they are capable of buying a home if they follow some simple steps,” Jessica said.

Akeem eventually went to his bank and was pre-approved to buy a home. He shared the news with Jessica at the start of their next counseling appointment.

“I was overwhelmed with joy when he came in,” she said. “Just accomplishing that. It’s stories like Akeem’s that make me say, ‘This is why I come to work.’”

After being pre-approved, he scheduled a pre-purchase counseling session to review his credit report and credit score, budget and spending habits, and ways to get his financing on track. Akeem decided it was best for his family that he re-examine homeownership in six to 12 months.

“The pre-purchase counseling session opened my eyes to expenses that I maybe wasn’t accounting for or prepared for,” he said.

In the meantime, Clarifi will remain a part of Akeem’s journey as he readies himself for homeownership. From the time he had a felony on his record to becoming financially resilient, Akeem has surrounded himself with people who advocated for him: mentors, family, lawyers, and counselors like Jessica.

“It takes collaborative communities to overcome this stuff,” he said. “I have to be patient, positive, and persistent, no matter what. I’ve got a dogged mentality. I’m not going to stop.”