Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones has made clear that she is not down with a tech startup firm that is financially backed by Jay-Z and Will Smith.
Landis Technologies, founded by Cyril Berdugo and Tom Petit, aims to help low-income renters own a home. Bloomberg writes, “The company purchases a house and rents it to the client until they can qualify for a mortgage. The client can buy it back at a predetermined price up to two years after the initial acquisition.”
Hannah-Jones views the startup firm as “predatory.”
“Credit counseling is not what will take low-income renters to homeowners, wealth will,” Hannah-Jones said in a tweet posted earlier this month.
She added, “All this program does is charge struggling people additional fees for being poor, which is what every other predatory lender does.”
She linked to an article about Jay-Z’s Roc Nation and Smith’s Dreamers VC investing in Landis Technologies.
According to its website, the company “helps renters transition to homeownership.”
“We allow our customers to select their dream home and rent it for up to 2 years while they get ready for a mortgage,” the site says. “We also offer tools and incentives to our customers to improve their credit and build up their down payment.”
The start-up has raised $165 million from a group of investors including Sequoia Capital, Fortune reported.
Landis Technologies co-founder Cyril Berdugo has clapped back at Hannah-Jones’ comments.
“A lot of the things that were said are not true,” Berdugo said, explaining, “we don’t charge additional fees, we don’t charge credit counseling fees,” and “we’re not a lender and we are not predatory.”
Berdugo continued, “We really care about financial literacy and financial inclusion for our clients … we are the company that makes people reach homeownership.”
The firm, Berdugo said, “made the decision to never charge for coaching or counseling or anything like that.”
Berdugo said Landis has reached out to Hannah-Jones to discuss her remarks but she had not responded.
“We would love to talk to Nikole,” he said.
“Financial inclusion is really important to us,” said Berdugo. “An aspect of Landis that we’re very proud to be a part of is wealth creation for low-income Americans.”
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