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Grassroots Lending Supports Lesbian/Gay Community
One of the roles of Community Development Financial Institutions is to help overcome the discrimination that many segments of our society face when they approach traditional lending institutions. The lesbian/gay/bi-sexual/transgender community is not exempt from the need for financial alternatives and nonprofit support institutions that cater to its special interests and eliminate discrimination. In recent years, many community lenders have made a commitment to work towards strengthening the LGBT community.

Over the past 20 years, the Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF) has used financial and advisory assistance to bolster the capacity of its nonprofit clients to handle growth and maintain financial strength. Recently NFF provided a $500,000 loan to Callen-Lorde Community Health Center which helped it expand and become a licensed primary care health clinic serving New York City's LGBT community and people living with HIV/AIDS. This nonprofit organization (founded in 1983) needed financing from NFF for the renovation of its healthcare facility. In the last 2 years NFF has also provided Callen-Lorde with a total of $700,000 in loans for working capital to bridge proceeds from the Boston-New York AIDS Rides.

Since 1990, the Illinois Facilities Fund’s low-interest loans have enabled more than 113 agencies, such as community health clinics, childcare centers and youth shelters to buy, expand or renovate their facilities. For example, Howard Brown Health Center provides health care and wellness programs in a confidential and supportive environment to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people. The agency is a leader in identifying and treating sexually transmitted diseases, and is the largest Midwest provider of HIV services. The IFF provided a $500,000 low-interest loan to Howard Brown to help the agency purchase, renovate, and expand the property it rented on Chicago’s North Side. The renovation nearly doubled the clinic’s program and administrative space and enabled it to continue growing to meet community needs.

Wainwright Bank and Trust Company has committed over $113 million in loans to homeless shelters, affordable housing, environmental protection, HIV/AIDS services, community health centers and more. Wainwright is another example of a lender that is a leader in providing financing to individuals and organizations in the LGBT community. It was also the first bank in Massachusetts to provide same-sex domestic partner employee benefits. This bank is affiliated with and provides financial support for many organizations including Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defender and Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (P-FLAG). Wainwright has also been a member of Greater Boston Business Council, which seeks to promote a positive image of the lesbian and gay community.

Triangle Interests, based in Philadelphia, is a national membership organization of lesbians that works to improve the lives of its members by providing alternatives that are not often offered by mainstream communities. One of these alternatives is the Triangle Interests Federal Credit Union, which is a federally insured, nationally chartered non-profit financial institution created for the specific purpose of improving the economic status and quality of life of the lesbian community. The credit union works to help the members of this organization get to a better financial position through savings and loan programs that are focused on helping borrowers develop financial goals and meet economic needs.

Michelle MacKinnon, founder and President, says, “Our organization focuses on the issues women in the lesbian community come up against and helps them reach their goals and objectives. Setting up a financial institution for this is a step in the right direction."

Another leader in providing unbiased financial services to the LGBT community is the Alternatives Federal Credit Union of Ithaca, NY. This credit union has enacted policies that support all its employees and clients regardless of their lifestyle choices. AFCU provides benefits equivalent to those of a married couple to its employees that register with the City of Ithaca as being in a domestic partnership. Usually when unmarried couples apply for mortgage loans together the down payment on the loan is considered a gift from one partner to the other, because only one person will appear on the title as the recipient of the loan. This lowers the creditworthiness of the borrowing couple, which does not occur if a couple is married. However, when AFCU accepts the down payment for a mortgage loan from registered domestic partners it evaluates them as it would a married couple. This assures their clients the ability to make a down payment for a house based on their financial status and not on the legal status of the couple.

“We don’t just accept the issues of our [LGBT] clients, we try to understand their financial needs,” says Bill Myers of AFCU. This mission allows the Alternatives Federal Credit Union to provide a comfortable atmosphere for their clients and therefore get a better picture of their clients’ financial status.

NFF, IFF, Wainwright, Triangle, and AFCU are just a few examples of the growing number of community development lenders that are providing support for the LGBT community.

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