Money & morals: Faith-based credit unions lend more than a helping hand

| Business, Community |

As foreclosure rates rise to new heights, Mary Rhodes is counting her blessings.

The Rankin County School District bus driver recently moved with her 17-year-old son into a new home in Morton.

"The Lord led me to this," she said about the three-bedroom, two-bath
house she closed on in June. "It was move-in ready. All I had to do was
paint." 

 

Photo Brian Albert Broom/The Clarion-Ledger

Frenchell
Gowdy (left) of Jackson talks with program officer Andrea Morris about
opening a checking account at Hope Community Credit Union. Like a
traditional bank, Hope’s deposits are federally insured and provide a
competitive rate of return.

Rhodes said she couldn’t have gotten her house without the help of her
lender, which not only gave the single mother a mortgage, but helped
her get a $15,000 grant toward the down payment.

"I don’t make a lot of money so I wasn’t sure I’d even be able to get a home," she said. "I’m just tickled to death to get it."

Rhodes got her house with help from the Hope Community Credit Union,
which got its start in 1995 when some members of Jackson’s Anderson
United Methodist Church decided to organize the state’s only
church-sponsored credit union.

With branches now in three states, Hope provides banking services in
underserved communities while investing its deposits in community
development. Its business model offers the chance for something called
mission-related investing, which allows people to put their money where
their morals are.

"Mississippi often leads the nation in the amount of charitable giving
yet typically we don’t think of that in terms of where we bank," said
Bill Bynum, CEO of Hope Community Credit Union/Enterprise Corporation
of the Delta. "We generally think about it as giving on Sunday morning
or supporting a museum or other charities, which is important. But it’s
also important that people realize they can make a difference when they
purchase a CD (Certificate of Deposit)." 

Hope Community Credit Union was initially founded to serve communities
where it’s more likely to find a pawn shop or payday loan store than a
bank.

Over the years it has grown through its partnerships with other
community development-minded churches and faith-based organizations.

In 2002, the Enterprise Corporation of the Delta became Hope’s sponsor,
which expanded the institution’s reach into more low-income communities.

Hope provides the same services as a commercial bank – from checking
accounts to consumer loans – while particularly targeting people who
were previously "unbanked."

Like a traditional bank, Hope’s deposits are federally insured and provide a competitive rate of return.

Credit unions are cooperatively owned by their members and aim to
provide financial services at reasonable rates. Some are
employer-based, and others have an open membership.

Photo Brian Albert Broom/The Clarion-Ledger

Hope Community Credit Union teller Quaysha Lowe helps customer Janice
Yancey of Jackson. Even though the market is down, some take comfort in
investing with institutions that help underserved neighborhoods.

"It gives us a great ability to bring on members who support our
mission of mission-driven investment," Bynum said. "Today we have
members from 49 states who know about this region."

After building a track record in the Delta, Hope expanded its reach to the Gulf Coast.

"We opened in New Orleans eight months before Katrina," Bynum said
about the August 2005 hurricane. "We were in a good position to help
with rebuilding there."

And Hope Community Credit Union will open a branch in Biloxi by the end of the year, Bynum said.

The credit union’s growth not only shows how many people need
affordable financial services, but how many people want to invest in
building communities.

The credit union’s membership has more than doubled from 4,000 before
Hurricane Katrina to 9,800 today, Bynum said. During the same time,
Hope’s assets have grown from $4 million to $63 million.

Bynum said while some 90 percent of the credit union’s members live in
"economically distressed communities," 95 percent of its deposits come
from socially responsible investors.

"They want a double return," he said about those who deposit their
money in the Hope Community Credit Union. "They want a solid return but
also want their funds to be used in a way that help improve the quality
of life."

Along with individuals, faith-based organizations and like-minded
institutions, banks and investment adviser firms such as the
Florida-based Community Capital Management have put money in Hope.

Community Capital Management has also invested about $100 million in
Hurricane Katrina-relief projects including a low- to moderate-income
housing development in Hancock County and a Harrison County finance
program that helps local governments rebuild.

"One of the biggest obstacles we’ve had to overcome is the disbelief
that you can invest in activities that promote positive impact in
communities and deliver returns," said Community Capital Management’s
president & chief investment officer Todd Cohen.

Over the last nine years, Community Capital Management – which operates
in the bond market – has invested $2.5 billion in community development
activities in all 50 states, Cohen said.

"It’s becoming more popular," he said about mission-related investing.

Until a friend suggested she contact the Hope Community Credit Union
for help getting a mortgage, Rhodes hadn’t even considered she’d be
eligible.

Now she’s enjoying gardening around her one-and-a-quarter acre plot,
using the rake and shovel her loan officer gave her as a housewarming
gift.

"I thought unless you were a member for a long time you probably
couldn’t even think about getting a loan," Rhodes said. "As it turns
out they help all kinds of people from all different walks of life. If
it wasn’t for them some people wouldn’t be able to afford a home."