Community Loan Fund Provides an Alternative
If Manhattan’s Wall Street symbolizes the unrestrained greed and social irresponsibility that crashed the economy three years ago, Concord’s Wall Street represents the opposite. As the location of the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund, 7 Wall Street is a center for conscientious lending oriented toward creating affordable housing, supporting nonprofit enterprises, and making capital accessible to people who wouldn’t get in the door at the ginormous financial institutions that dominate the economy.
The Loan Fund specializes in matching borrowers with lenders who care about more than the bottom line. The best example might be the first one. In 1983, a group of manufactured home owners in Meredith were in danger of seeing their lot rents skyrocket when the privately owned park was put up for sale. The Loan Fund arranged to borrow funds from the Religious Sisters of Mercy, helped the home owners form a cooperative to run the park democratically, and lent them the funds to buy the park themselves. The nuns put their money to work in manner consistent with their values. The residents saved their homes and gained security otherwise unavailable at a time when parks were being bought and sold like pork belly futures. And the brand new Community Loan Fund developed a business model destined to take off.
“We were founded on the belief that many people with low incomes can become more self-sufficient if they have access to fair sources of credit,” according to the Loan Fund’s web page. “We also know that people and organizations will invest in providing opportunity for their neighbors – when they trust that their money is used wisely, responsibly and for maximum impact.”
Twenty-eight years after its birth, the Fund has loaned more than $140 million to thousands of New Hampshire individuals, organizations and employers. In contrast to the sharks of the other Wall Street, the Loan Fund has shown that it’s possible to make successful loans to “sub-prime” borrowers. As a result, when the world of private finance went into a tailspin in 2008, the Loan Fund stayed on course, with few of its loans going sour.
There are now 98 cooperatively owned manufactured housing parks in New Hampshire, a model the Fund has taken national through its offshoot, ROC USA. The Loan Fund also provides mortgages directly to owners of manufactured homes, who previously were unable to get reasonable financing from private lenders. And the Loan Fund has programs for nonprofit child care centers and non profit landlords, and small business loans that range from a thousand to half a million dollars.
To be fair, the Loan Fund often partners with private lenders. But its mission, “to serve as a catalyst, leveraging financial, human, and civic resources to enable traditionally underserved people to participate more fully in New Hampshire’s economy,” sets it off from the corporations whose shares are bought and sold on the New York Stock Exchange.
In Concord, there’s no need to occupy Wall Street. It’s already been taken over by people who care about reducing poverty, expanding opportunity, and building community.