Before she founded Paradise Estates, an East Coast affordable housing business, Marcia Brown thought she would make her fortune selling hair extensions. It seemed like a good idea to break into the billion-dollar corner of the beauty industry, but she quickly learned an important lesson: “It really taught me something about myself, which is that I’m not a good seller, I’m not a peddler,” Brown says. It wasn't long before the business failed.

That hiccup was one part of a career journey that included a stint in grad school and an unfulfilling stop in the corporate world. In 2018, Brown quit her office job and started another business of her own.

This decision initially left her in a state of financial precarity where she couldn’t afford the payment on her condo in Queens. At one point, the situation put her on the cusp of homelessness. She was ultimately able to sell her condo, but the experience left Brown to contemplate how a frightening possibility for herself is the unfortunate reality for so many others unable to secure or maintain affordable housing.

“It's from my own experience of not being able to maintain my mortgage that my concern for homelessness really crossed my mind,” Brown says. “We’re all people, and we’re all struggling to take care of our kids. Sometimes people just need help.”

After conducting research, Brown decided to purchase two properties in nearby Wilmington, Delaware, as Paradise Estates’ first rental prospects. It was the perfect mix of risk and reward — there was a need for affordable housing, yet compared with cities like New York, the real estate market remains relatively affordable. After working with the local housing authority to integrate her properties into the Section 8 affordable housing program, Brown was quickly “inundated” with calls as she secured qualified tenants almost immediately. People kept calling, and, as of a recent count, Paradise Estates maintains a waitlist of seven families.

One of the Wilmington, Delaware, rental properties offered by Paradise Estates.

Nobody is going to become a robber baron working in affordable housing — and Brown is okay with that. While Paradise Estates is established as an LLC, she thinks of it in terms of a social enterprise: a careful balance wherein yes, of course, she hopes to make a profit, but the bottom line will always be balanced against the social benefit of providing fellow humans with shelter. “The profit margin is low, but I’m still able to save some money,” Brown explains, adding that her properties are generally offered at between 10 and 20 percent below market rate.

A portion of that revenue feeds back into the properties for maintenance and upgrades. An external property management firm takes care of the day-to-day; Brown runs the rest of the business remotely from her current home in New Jersey, or while she’s traveling or visiting family.

Now that she’s established a solid roadmap for her business, the hope is to plug and play as she scales to purchase more properties in Wilmington and beyond. The end goal, she says, is to work her way up to purchasing property back in New York City, where she understands firsthand the need for high-quality, accessible, and affordable housing.