In early 2016, residents of Wichita’s City Council District 1 got together to discuss what businesses they wanted to see move in at 13th and Oliver.
The Walmart Neighborhood Market there had just closed; so had the QuikTrip across the street.
But neighbors saw those losses as a chance to bring in new businesses that could benefit the area.
“We don’t want it to be a liquor store,” said then-council member Lavonta Williams. “We don’t want it to be anything that’s an entertainment area.
“And we don’t want it to be a payday lending facility.”
But, almost five years later, that’s exactly what came: In November, Title Max moved into the old Creations by Crawford flower shop on the southwest corner of the intersection.
“It’s just unfortunate to have that on that corner,” said council member Brandon Johnson, who represents District 1.
A 2016 report from Pew Charitable Trusts found that 12 million people in the U.S. take out loans each year.
Johnson says the city usually works to restrict new payday lenders by using a zoning tool called a “protective overlay” — basically limiting what can move into a certain building. But in this case, Title Max fit the zoning requirements and didn’t have to go before the city for approval.
“This one was able to work out with the property owner an agreement to acquire that property and open up shop,” Johnson said. “And many in the community are greatly upset by that.”
Title Max’s parent company, TMX Finance, declined to comment, saying it doesn’t respond to media inquiries. But Johnson says it isn’t about this one business.
“We are going to continue bringing attention to not only this business, but just the industry in general and how bad it is,” he said.
Community activist Ti’Juana Hardwell lives around the corner from the new Title Max; when she heard it was opening, she organized a protest in front of the business.
She says payday lenders tend to take advantage of low-income residents, particularly in neighborhoods that are majority Black. She’s seen first-hand how families can get stuck in a lending trap.
“Just remembering my mom, you know, having to unfortunately take out a loan, and then she'd go on over to the next one and she'd have to reborrow in order to pay that loan,” Hardwell said.
“On payday ... that was something that we did: We got in the car, and she would go from one to the other, paying them in order to reborrow and then going to the next one in order to do the same thing, just to be able to take care of rent and bills.
"And that is toxic. You cannot get ahead like that."
She and Johnson also are working with local lawmakers and other advocates on legislation to be introduced in the next session in Topeka. Hardwell says regulation is needed to limit the number of payday lenders in an area, and the interest rates they’re allowed to charge.
“The systemic change is on its way,” she said. “That’s something that we know is our priority with making sure there is some regulation for these companies who tend to prey on Black and brown and poor people in general.”
In the meantime, Hardwell wants to inform people about other resources available for people in need. At the protest last month, she handed out information on places like United Way and ICT Community Fridge.
“I think that sometimes people to tend to go to places like payday loans and title loan companies because they don’t know about other resources that could exist that could get them to their next paycheck,” Hardwell said. “We're looking for ways to be able to make sure that people have the resources that they need prior to even looking at a payday loan or a title loan company.”