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CDFIs spur development in needed areas

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Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), they often step in where traditional banks fear to tread, not only providing business loans, often to first-time entrepreneurs, but also giving valuable financial and business counseling to increase the likelihood of a loan being repaid and of the business succeeding. |  PHOTO COURTESY OF UNSPLASH

Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) often provide loans to businesses, but also financial counseling services. | PHOTO COURTESY OF UNSPLASH

A small group of seldom-recognized nonprofit organizations are spurring economic development in under-resourced areas of Delaware that might otherwise have fallen into neglect.

Called Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs), they often step in where traditional banks fear to tread, not only providing business loans, often to first-time entrepreneurs, but also giving valuable financial and business counseling to increase the likelihood of a loan being repaid and of the business succeeding.

“Unlike commercial banks, we usually don’t give potential borrowers a straight ‘no’. We tell them, if you do this, this and this, there may be a way we can help,” said Vandell Hampton Jr., president & CEO of Wilmington-based True Access Capital. “We will work with the client for the life of a loan – we don’t just disappear. Our goal is to help entrepreneurs stay in business.”

True Access and related nonprofits financial organizations grew out of the federal Community Development Financial Institutions Fund created in 1994 within the U.S. Treasury Department. The fund promotes economic revitalization in distressed communities by providing financial assistance and information for businesses, nonprofit organizations and even individuals through these CDFIs. However, the definition of what is or isn’t a CDFI organization is not quite as clear – for example, some credit unions are considered CDFIs, while others are  not.

Only part of CDFIs’ funding comes through the federal program.

“We borrow the money to lend,” Hampton explained. “We get funds from the government, private foundations and banks which provide grants.”

In many instances, banks and other commercial business will actually invest in CDFI funds.

Many activities of CDFI institutions are also undertaken in tandem with other organizations and businesses, added Karen Speakman, executive director of Dover-based NeighborGood Partners, a CDFI formerly known as NCALL.

“Since 2014, we have worked on the Restoring Central Dover Program with other organizations,” she said. “For example, working with Habitat for Humanity, we have built 48 new houses in the downtown area.”

Speakman emphasizes that helping to restore housing is only part of what she calls “a holistic approach” to the area, which includes helping to provide well-lighted and safe streets to the 75-square-block area of Dover.

While NeighborGood and True Access are the largest and most visible of the handful of Delaware organizations with federal CDFI funding, they emphasize somewhat different approaches in how they aid in community development. NeighborGood has many primary programs based at the individual level, including financial education, home ownership education, foreclosure prevention and rental application assistance, Speakman noted.

On the other hand, True Access considers itself a more business-oriented resource within under-resourced communities, offering a dedicated women’s business center as well as primary programs for loan products, community initiatives and business training and education.

“We also may give repeat loans,” Hampton said. “For example, we may loan money to someone wanting to start a daycare business. Later, the opportunity might come up for us to help buy them buy their building.” 

Both organizations stress that they are financially sound and well-regulated.

“We judge ourselves on our sustainability to be able to help people by increasing our assets, and we are proud that our earned income is about 30% of total funding,” Speakman said.

To that end, NeighborGood currently has $26 million in loan assets, and True Access has $22 million in assets for lending.

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