The Silver Star apartment complex in Battle Creek, MI, – which provides affordable housing for previously homeless veterans – embodies what Cinnaire is all about. Starting in 1992 as the Michigan Capital Fund for Housing (MCFH), what became Cinnaire in 2015 was created to meet an immediate and critical need for affordable housing in Michigan.
Cinnaire stepped in where funds had largely been unavailable for smaller scale developments, projects with nonprofit sponsors, and those serving special needs populations.
The Silver Star project, built in 2009, provides 176 housing units and much more than just shelter. “We provide housing but also a community,” said Ashlee Barker, the Community Development Initiatives Manager for Lending for Cinnaire. “It really feels like a family there. They mentor each other. They have a resident-led board. They have a cooking class. We (at Cinnaire) are all personally connected to this project. We are very passionate about people who have served our country. They deserve a healthy place to call home. It’s unconscionable that they should have to face homelessness.”
Cinnaire, which is celebrating its 25th year, has grown quite a bit during that quarter century. Its footprint now spans ten states across the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic and it has approximately $3.9 billion in total investments in high-impact affordable housing, as well as commercial and community facilities.
RCIF loaned Cinnaire $250,000 in April 2017. RCIF came to the attention of Cinnaire a year earlier, Barker said, after Sr. Corinne Florek was included in an article on the pioneers of impact investing in Cinnaire’s magazine, Avenues to Affordability.
“RCIF is a good fit for us because of its commitment to social justice,” Barker said. “Sr. Corinne recognized our joint focus on impacts for communities. We are strongly aligned.”
Cinnaire also takes pride in creating a positive workplace environment for its employees. In 2016, the organization won Crain’s Cool Places to Work award and earlier this year was again named a Best Nonprofit to Work For by the Nonprofit Times. “I find it particularly motivating to work for a company like this,” Barker said.
When it comes to financing small business entrepreneurs, women – at least those in Texas – have a harder time than men.
That’s according to Amber Kani, who knows a thing or two about the subject. Even though women return capital to their communities more often than men, and repay their loans at a higher rate, Kani says that women are not given the same opportunities as men; they get loans less often and, when they do, often at higher interest rates.
“We want to empower women in as many ways as we can,” said Kani, who is Director of Advancement & Education for Austin-based PeopleFund. “We want to give them an ecosystem of support.”
PeopleFund has been around since 1994, starting in five counties around Austin TX. Since then it has expanded to being a $30 million fund and has loaned almost $12 million to Texas businesswomen. In addition to women, PeopleFund also targets veterans, minorities and low-income communities. They work with small business owners offering help with financial literacy, understanding credit and running a business. “Being the best baker doesn’t mean you know how to run a bakery,” noted Kani.
In addition to its ongoing goals, PeopleFund stepped up in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, which in August 2017 caused $125 billion in damage, primarily from catastrophic rainfall-triggered flooding in the Houston metropolitan area. “We had 90 clients who had received capital from us who were affected,” Kani said, “We made payments on behalf of them for six months. Only two businesses have chosen not to reopen their doors. Most all are back up and running.”
RCIF has been involved with PeopleFund for about six years, said Kani, who described RCIF as “an amazing partner.” RCIF most recently loaned PeopleFund $150,000 in 2015, a transfer of funds from the Adrian Dominican Sisters.
VERMONT COMMUNITY LOAN
Jake Ide will be the first to admit that there is a ubiquitous image of Vermont – ski resorts, second homes and, of course, maple syrup. “People think it’s a yearlong fall festival going on here,” said Ide, who is the director of investment and philanthropy for the Vermont Community Loan Fund.
The real situation is not quite so picturesque. “In lots of places, rural poverty is insidious and pervasive,” Ide said. “There’s a lot of folks struggling to make ends meet.” In a state without a major industry – tourism drives the economy – Ide noted that when the Great Recession 2007 occurred, it hit Vermont just as hard as anywhere else. “And our comebacks have lagged behind others. We have not seen some of the recovery that others have.”
That’s where the Vermont Community Loan Fund (VCLF) comes in. For three decades, the VCLF has been a community-focused alternative lender making loans to local businesses, community organizations and nonprofits, child care providers and developers of affordable housing who don’t qualify for a loan from a traditional lender.
Since 1987, the VCLF has loaned more than $100 million to communities, businesses, organizations and families. The approximately 1,000 loans provided during that time has helped create or preserve jobs for roughly 6,100 Vermonters and built or rehabilitated affordable homes for approximately 4,000 people. The Loan Fund also has focused on child care, having created or preserved quality child care opportunities for more than 4,000 children and their families.
“As a nation we don’t think about child care as a business, we think of it as a service,” Ide said. “Not a lot of attention is devoted to helping them succeed. Banks don’t understand it as an industry.”
RCIF has been one of the Loan Fund’s chief investors for many years. It recently renewed the $100,000 loan to VCLF. Ide said faith-based groups were some of the early adopters of this kind of investing. “They keep our feet to the fire,” he said, “They are invested in having our money align with our values. They are the folks who basically invented that.”
Cathy Craig has over thirty years of experience building and sustaining viable community development organizations: managing programs, managing affordable housing assets, and supporting professional development of fellow practitioners. She assists nonprofits and public agencies to analyze their operations and develop business plans and long-term strategies. Before beginning her consulting practice in 2010, Cathy was a senior program officer with Bay Area LISC where she developed and coordinated capacity building programs, including a leadership institute for senior managers of community development organizations and an energy efficiency and green building program. She also developed trainings and oversaw research projects to identify and share best practices. Cathy previously served in various positions in Oakland and San Francisco-based housing and community development organizations.
Cathy thoroughly enjoys working with Corinne and getting to know the fantastic organizations that RCIF supports.