ADRIAN DOMINICAN SISTERS
The Adrian Dominican Sisters were one of the first in recognizing the impact religious groups could have by investing resources to help underserved communities through low-interest loan programs. And they have a good track record too, having loaned more than $33 million for such efforts as supporting literacy training in Haiti, establishing natural food cooperatives in New England, and fostering microenterprise in the Philippines – to name but a few.
“We have been at this for more than 40 years and we’ve only had two defaults,” said Dee Ann Joyner, an Associate of the Adrian Dominican Sisters and the former chair of the congregation’s Portfolio Advisory Board. “That’s really incredible.”
Joyner, now staff for the advisory board, notes that the sisters have been helped along the way for several years by RCIF’s Sr. Corinne Florek, an Adrian Dominican who manages the Adrian’s community investment portfolio and was previously on the Portfolio Advisory Board.
Joyner said that the congregation’s connection with RCIF is based on shared priorities. “We have social impact criteria that are consistent with theirs, including investing in not-for-profit organizations that are especially helping women and people of color in low-income communities.”
The Adrian Dominican Sisters became an RCIF member in 2017 and made an investment that helped RCIF reach its goal of $10 million.
“One of the advantages of membership is that it allows us to collaborate with other religious congregations”, said Joyner. “We like their willingness to take risks where others might not be willing to do so. Where they see a compelling need, they are willing to be out front in figuring out creative ways to meet those needs.”
Joyner cited an effort in Florida that established a program to provide low- interest loans to people who wanted to retrofit their homes with solar panels.
The loans not only made the retrofits affordable for homeowners, who Joyner said could not have gotten conventional loans from commercial banks, but it also helped out the environment with a sustainable source of energy. “Doing that in a way that is economically viable is, to me, an example of being creative.”
LATINO CREDIT UNION
There was a time in the early 1990s, Alison Yonas recounts, that a rapid increase in the size of the Latino community in North Carolina was creating a serious crime problem for new immigrants. “Some newcomers were coming from places where people did not use financial institutions or feel comfortable doing so,” she said. “They were easy targets for robbery and home invasions.”
In 2000, as a grassroots response to crime against Latino immigrants, the Latino Community Credit Union was established to provide a safe place to save money and become more comfortable with financial situations.
“When people come from countries where financial systems have failed or their experiences aren’t as strong, and you come to this country with issues of language and cultural concerns about entering a bank, it’s hard to feel comfortable,” said Yonas, who is Vice President of Development and Strategic Investments for the credit union.
Based in Durham, the Latino Credit Union now has 75,000 members in 12 branches throughout North Carolina. Providing bilingual and bicultural services, Yonas said her organization’s products do not require a credit history and are geared to be accessible to members – from starter accounts to checking accounts to IRAs to affordable mortgage loans.
RCIF has been involved with the Latino Credit Union since lending the organization $150,000 in 2010, Yonas said. She said the relationship is an easy one because their missions are so aligned and because “people with RCIF are leaders in socially responsible investing.”
“We like their inclusiveness,” Yonas added. “It’s clearly an important part of their mission and, like them, we try to be equitable in everything that we do.”
In addition to providing banking solutions to its members, the Latino Credit Union also provides education to its members and the community at large via twice-a-year workshops on budgeting, saving, credit and the like. “The workshops are one of the most inspiring parts of the work we do,” Yonas said, “We have a graduation ceremony at the end of the workshops. For some of our members, it’s their first experience graduating.”
The credit union also has helped more than 2,300 so-called “dreamers” with a loan for the $465 application fee for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Yonas said the Latino Credit Union has provided more of these loans than any other lender in the country.
TEXAS COMMUNITY CAPITOL
Payday loan businesses – those storefront operations that provide quick loans at alarmingly high interest rates – are prevalent throughout the United States. A February 2018 report from the Pew Charitable Trusts states that “many of these loans end up harming consumers” and that most borrowers pay more in fees than they originally received in credit.
Texas Community Capital, based in Austin, has been working hard for five years to do something about the situation. Through its Community Loan Center, employees of participating employers may borrow up to $1,000 at 18 percent interest with up to 12 months to repay. That’s a clear-cut alternative to payday loans that – according to Matt Hull, Administrator for TCC – can have interest rates of close to 700 percent.
“It’s predatory, but it’s legal,” said Hull, who also is Executive Director of the Texas Association of Community Development Corporations. “Texas is fairly unregulated. We are one of the most unregulated states.”
In 2014, TCC partnered with the Rio Grande Valley MultiBank to bring the Community Loan Center idea to other communities after their successful pilot program in the Rio Grande Valley. “They saw that a large, increasing number of people in the affordable housing pipeline were getting knocked out of that pipeline because of the predatory nature of payday loaning,” said Hull. “They needed to do something about it.”
TCC now has more than a dozen partners in at least six states providing viable alternatives to payday loans. Altogether, the network has made about 33,000 loans totaling close to $25 million. That effort and growth was aided in 2017 when RCIF made a $100,000 loan to TCC. The loan, said Hull, has been targeted to help low-income communities in East Texas. Hull said RCIF has “really helped us better understand the finances of our program and to build our capacity in managing the program internally.”
Beyond providing alternatives to payday loans, TCC in recent years has started offering financial counseling to customers. Those services, said TCC Program Manager Howard Porter, include tips on managing money, budgeting and credit counseling. “We are trying to grow that program,” he said.