Op-Ed – Congress: Continue to Invest in America’s Struggling Cities and Towns
By Nancy O. Andrews, Ellis Carr, Donald Hinkle-Brown and Joe Neri
As leaders of four of the nation’s largest nonprofit community development financial institutions (CDFIs) with the mission of investing in low-income communities and entrepreneurs, we ask Congress to protect the desperately needed flow of investment capital to America’s struggling cities and towns.
In short, we ask Congress to ensure full funding for the U.S. Treasury Department’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund (CDFI Fund), whose support enables us and more than 1,000 other CDFIs nationwide to provide patient, innovative capital solutions to help small businesses, expand educational opportunities, and build affordable homes. These investments provide a tremendous bang for the taxpayer buck: On average, CDFIs leverage every federal dollar with at least 12 additional dollars from other sources, including banks, foundations, and impact investors.
Last year, $233 million in CDFI Fund appropriations led to more than $2 billion worth of investments and loans across the U.S. Most importantly, this capital has fueled economic growth in thousands of distressed cities and towns, providing economic opportunity for millions of Americans. In 2016 alone, with support from the CDFI Fund, CDFIs nationwide created 36,000 jobs, made 11,000 business loans, and financed 24,000 affordable housing units in urban and rural communities that need it most.
Yet, despite a solid track record of success and consistently strong bipartisan congressional support since its founding in 1994, the CDFI Fund is on the chopping block. The Trump administration’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 would eviscerate the CDFI Fund’s vital programs, cutting all but $14 million of its current $248 million budget.
The House voted to restore some of that funding, and although that’s a good first step, we need more than that. The CDFI Fund must continue to operate at full strength. Without the CDFI Fund, small businesses like veteran-owned Honor Capital, which brings affordable grocery stores and jobs to underserved neighborhoods, wouldn’t exist.
Honor Capital’s seven grocery stores in Kansas, South Carolina, Virginia, and Oklahoma have all been financed with CDFI loans. In Wichita and Winfield, Kan., for example, Honor Capital opened two stores that have brought fresh, affordable foods to their communities, created jobs, and attracted new businesses. Each Honor Capital grocery store serves thousands of customers every week.
As part of Honor Capital’s ambitious plan to increase access to healthy foods and support veteran entrepreneurship nationwide, the company will expand to operating a total of 10 stores by the end of 2017, including new stores in North Carolina and Georgia. This growth is made possible by $9 million in innovative financing provided by a partnership of three CDFIs—IFF, Reinvestment Fund, and Enterprise Community Partners. CDFI financing is essential because many start-up and early-stage businesses like Honor Capital have difficulty accessing credit.
In the District of Columbia’s Congress Heights neighborhood, a $14.4 million capital infusion from two CDFIs, the Low Income Investment Fund (LIIF) and Capital Impact Partners (CIP), enabled the Charter School Incubator Initiative to renovate a building that houses two charter schools. Somerset Prep DC and Community College Preparatory Academy serve students in grades six through 12, as well as adult learners. These two schools expand the opportunities for youth and adults to secure high-quality education in their community. Congress Heights, a predominantly African-American and low-income neighborhood, is undergoing pressure from the rapid public and private-sector development in the District. Like other CDFIs, LIIF and CIP are working to ensure inclusive growth by enabling all residents to participate in the revitalization of their community.
The impact of the CDFI Fund’s support goes well beyond dollars and cents.
CDFIs help communities realize their visions of prosperity. They work closely with local nonprofits, businesses, and government to ensure that they are addressing community needs and priorities. They seek out opportunities that traditional financial institutions often overlook: in neighborhoods where median incomes and school test scores fall below national averages, and in businesses like grocery stores that have thin profit margins and higher risk.
CDFI financing is about helping Americans live better lives—through good jobs; safe and affordable housing; access to fresh, healthy foods; high-quality education from early childhood to college; and excellent health care.
America’s cities, towns and rural areas need the CDFI Fund in order to thrive. Congress should ensure that funding for CDFIs is fully restored in the 2018 budget and keep investment capital flowing to vulnerable communities.
Nancy O. Andrews is President and CEO of the Low Income Investment Fund, which is dedicated to creating pathways of opportunity for low income people and communities. Ellis Carr is Capital Impact Partners’ President and Chief Executive Officer and has more than 20 years of experience in the financial services and mortgage industries. Donald Hinkle-Brown is President and CEO of Reinvestment Fund, a national CDFI which integrates data, policy and strategic investments to improve the quality of life in low-income neighborhoods. Joe Neri is President & CEO of Chicago-based IFF, the Midwest’s leading non-depository, diversified Community Development Financial Institution, which focuses on strengthening nonprofits and the communities they serve.