Nestled in between Chicago and St. Louis is the small city of Peoria, Illinois. It's home to about 100,000 people, including Angie Ostaszewski — a TikTok influencer who says she has single-handedly recruited more than 300 transplants to her city.
"I really like to share, so if something is beneficial for me, I want to share it with other people so they can benefit from it too," she said.
The main benefit Ostaszewski likes to share is the affordability of Peoria's homes. According to Zillow, the average home in the U.S. is about $330,000, and in Peoria, it's about a third of that cost, at around $109,000.
In 2017 at the age of 26, Ostaszewski was able to buy her first home, to her surprise, for $33,000. Her mortgage for the two-bedroom, one-bath home is about $314 a month, which is cheaper than renting in some places in the country.
Now Ostaszewski owns three homes and has recruited tons of people, including her siblings, to live in Peoria, where she welcomes each transplant to her favorite places — from a unique vintage shop to an LGBTQ bookstore that has been in the city for eight years.
Just a few minutes away from Ostaszewski live Peoria transplants, 26-year-old Nick Hayes and his husband. They left their van life in Seattle to find a more stable way of living.
"It's something that I never thought was going to happen," Hayes, a first-time homeowner, said. "Having a space that is my own and being able to do whatever I want with it is so empowering."
Hayes said his family lived in a trailer when he was a baby. It was his first home, and now he lives in a 113-year-old, three-bedroom, two-bath he bought in Peoria for $85,000.
"I'm able to have plans for the future versus, you know, if you live in an apartment, you're not really going to be there forever, and there's this feeling of temporary all the time," he said. "But I'm going to die in this house, you know, and that's really freeing to know."
SEE MORE: Why is it more expensive than ever to buy a home in US?
Though Peoria isn't perfect — it has its crime and poverty — both Ostaszewski and Hayes say they feel safe and accepted while they're saving money.
"When you've been living paycheck to paycheck and all of a sudden you're not ... so many problems magically get solved in your life," Ostaszewski said.
According to the U.S. Census, in the first quarter of 2023, about 65% of Americans own homes. Only White Americans exceeded that figure at 74.4%. Hispanic, Black, AAPI and LGBTQ Americans fell below that percentage.
Home ownership is often seen as a path to building intergenerational wealth, and
Ostaszewski — who identifies as queer, Filipina and Polish — said she hopes to break those cycles of poverty gaps, particularly for marginalized communities.
"I do truly believe that when you bring in folks who have struggled with things in their life, give them resources and lower their financial burden that they do want to give back to the community," she said. "It's really assets that divide a lot of marginalized groups from the dominant culture assets, including housing, so a lot of families don't have housing or something like that to pass down to their descendants."
And although she's not a real estate agent, she prides herself as a connector who wants to continue building her community.
"I was really lonely for a lot of my 20s, and when I started to find community in Peoria, people who looked like me, have the same values as me, I just wanted other people to feel like they could belong somewhere, too," Ostaszewski said.
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