Partners, Volume 15, Number 1, 2005

2004 Highlights for Community Affairs

Alabama | North Florida | South Florida | Georgia | Louisiana & Mississippi | Tennessee


Synonymous with the Deep South, cradle of the Civil Rights movement, and home to 14 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Alabama’s history and identity is traversed by a common thread: the richness of its faith community across all racial and economic strata.

Long before the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, community development organizations existed in the state. Lending and investment programs have become familiar to bankers, government, intermediaries, investors, benefactors, and other practitioners. But only in recent years have churches seen opportunities to build affordable housing that both serves the needy and helps uplift entire communities.

While this movement has gained momentum and impressive financial capacity, professional guidance has been lacking. As the Fed’s Regional Community Development Director for Alabama, Michael Milner devoted significant attention in 2004 to nurturing faith-based community and economic development.

In December 2003, Milner organized an exploratory summit at the Birmingham Branch for faith-based organizations and financial institutions. The group met to discuss the potential role of faith-based organizations in stimulating economic development activities in their surrounding communities.

Participants agreed that community development activities were consistent with—and even vital to—the mission of their organizations, particularly for those churches in economically distressed communities. The group recognized that many faith-based organizations were already involved in daycare and basic literacy programs. But to have a greater economic impact on their communities, they saw the need for more affordable housing and decent jobs.

To help these organizations obtain the tools to engage in effective community development, Milner gathered 20 financial institutions, government agencies, nonprofits, and for-profit organizations for a two-day conference on Faith and Community Based Development. Nearly 300 people from Alabama attended the event, which took place at the Montgomery Civic Center in October 2004.

The conference featured keynote remarks by Alabama’s governor, the Honorable Bob Riley. Nationally known speakers included Dr. Tony Evans of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship Church, Dallas, Texas; Rev. Mark Whitlock II, executive director of FAME Renaissance, Los Angeles, California; Robert Woodson, president and founder of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, Washington, DC; and Cheryl Appline, national program director for HUD’s faith-based initiatives.

Empahsizing “how-to” workshops, the conference offered sessions for beginners, those with modest experience, and those well-seasoned in community development work. On the second day, Alabama community development practitioners from around the state shared success stories.

Participant evaluations showed that this event, with its emphasis on hands-on guidance, truly made a difference. Strong support from high-profile leaders demonstrated both commitment and hope. A critical mass of participants facilitated significant networking, especially between bankers and church leaders interested in funding sources.

In light of the conference’s success, the planning committee is developing a follow-up event. Relatively few faith-based organizations in Alabama have experience in managing community development ministries, so there’s great opportunity to provide additional training.

An initiative like this doesn’t happen automatically: It takes personal commitment from employees like Mike Milner to build the bridges.

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The Jacksonville Branch’s Regional Community Development Manager, Janet Hamer, was busy in 2004 working with financial education initiatives, regional prosperity campaigns in north and central Florida, and several statewide coalitions.

One of Hamer’s projects has been continuing to partner with the FDIC’s Community Affairs staff, providing “train-the-trainer” one-day workshops to various community groups in Florida. The workshops certified a total of 133 Money Smart teachers in Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, Manatee County, Lakeland, Orlando and Daytona Beach. As a result of this training, ongoing Money Smart classes are now available in all of these areas.

In addition, she continues to serve on the board of directors of the Florida Jump$tart Coalition. Hamer is a founding member of this statewide coalition, which provides teacher training and other financial education opportunities for children and young adults.

Promoting financial education and wealth-building initiatives
During 2004, Hamer worked closely with prosperity campaigns in Northeast Florida (serving the Jacksonville metropolitan area), Hillsborough/Pinellas County, and Polk County, using the Money Smart curriculum to continue providing financial education classes for low- and moderate-income individuals.

The three areas have experienced an increase in the number of eligible families and individuals filing for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a federal income tax credit refunded to eligible low-income working individuals and families who apply and qualify for the benefit. Use of free income tax preparation services increased at neighborhood VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) sites as well.

The Jacksonville campaign saw a particularly significant increase in the number of tax returns prepared at VITA sites. In the Jacksonville metropolitan area, the volume of returns filed in 2004 rose by 58 percent over the 2003 tax season, and returns qualifying for EITC were up by 176 percent.

Facilitating forums with local bankers
Hamer also sponsored meetings of two regional Bankers Roundtables. The Bay Area Bankers Roundtable (serving the Tampa Bay area) and the Northeast Florida Bankers Roundtable convened quarterly last year to provide local bankers with information on community development opportunities in their markets. The Roundtables also introduce various community partners and resources to assist banks in their community development efforts.

Boosting community and economic development through coalitions
Facilitating new statewide partnerships of community and economic development organizations is another goal supported by Hamer’s work with the Jacksonville Branch’s Community Affairs program. Last year she organized three quarterly meetings of the newly formed Florida Association of Nonprofit Developers. Formation of this organization is an important step for the many nonprofit developers in Florida. The organization will provide technical assistance to various housing nonprofits as well as facilitate partnerships of organizations to produce affordable housing units in Florida.

In addition, Hamer stays involved with other statewide community development organizations, including the recently formed Florida Association of Community Development Corporations, the Florida Community Development Association, and the Florida Supportive Housing Coalition.

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The Miami Branch’s Regional Community Development Director, Ana Cruz-Taura, partnered on two major projects in 2004 to improve financial education and services to low- and moderate-income and immigrant populations: the Greater Miami Prosperity Campaign and a research project on immigrants’ use of remittance services.

Greater Miami Prosperity Campaign
Miami’s diverse social and economic issues pose challenges for community development initiatives. The 2000 Census revealed that Miami is the poorest of Florida’s 100 largest cities, with poverty rates for children and the elderly ranking among the highest in the state.

The city’s community development challenges are not limited to depressed income levels, however. As a “gateway” to thousands of migrants and immigrants each year, the city faces complex issues related to workforce training, cultural diversity, affordable housing, transportation, economic development, and education.

Recognizing the need for a comprehensive approach to economic well-being, the Human Services Coalition (HSC), a social service intermediary serving Miami-Dade County, launched the Greater Miami Prosperity Campaign in 2002 to coordinate outreach to low-income communities.

The Prosperity Campaign helps low-wage workers access economic benefits programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Childcare Tax Credit. Since its inception, Cruz-Taura has worked with HSC by providing research, resources, and best practices information about reaching minority and low-income communities through EITC outreach, financial education, credit counseling, and homeownership counseling programs.

In 2004, the campaign was expanded beyond the City of Miami to include all of Miami-Dade County, bringing additional public and private support for the program.

Research on immigrants and remittances
The Atlanta Fed’s Community Affairs program collaborated with the Research Department of the Federal Reserve Board to study the remittance market among immigrants in the Sixth District.

The research shows that financial institutions have captured only a small percentage of the remittance market, which represented over $100 billion sent by immigrants back to their home countries in 2004. Early last year, the Federal Reserve introduced its FedACH InternationalSM Services product which allows member financial institutions to send funds at lower costs to Canada, Mexico, and throughout the Transatlantic region.

Focusing on Mexican immigrants, who send the largest numbers of remittances, the research explored how decisions about remittance services affect use of either mainstream or alternative financial service providers. Researchers conducted surveys and focus group meetings in Dalton, Ga., Miami, Fla., and Nashville, Tenn.

Community-based organizations in each market—The Georgia Project, Everglades Community Association, and Conexión Américas—assisted with the research by providing access to individuals and offering insight on the financial services environment in their respective communities.

Financial education, access to mainstream financial services, and consumer protection were cited as priorities among the immigrant participants in the focus groups. Research results, which were presented at the 2005 Federal Reserve System Research Conference in April, will be addressed later in the year at workshops and symposiums throughout the Sixth District to consider the implications for southeastern communities with high immigrant populations.

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Regional Community Development Manager Sibyl Howell logged in many miles in 2004 traveling across Georgia to support financial education projects, wealth-building initiatives, and state alliances. She made nearly 100 technical assistance and outreach calls to consult with community development partnerships, financial institutions, and nonprofit organizations. The Mayors Forum, First Accounts, and Georgia Project are typical of the programs that Howell fosters.

Mayors Forum addresses affordable housing policies in Georgia
The entire state of Georgia, much like Atlanta, is experiencing rapid population growth that has outpaced the production of sufficient affordable housing, particularly in areas convenient to jobs. The Mayors Forum engaged mayors from across the state in discussion about these issues and facilitated collaboration about possible solutions.

Hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta in conjunction with Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership, Inc. (ANDP) and the Georgia Municipal Association, the forum presented "Making The Case for Mixed Income and Mixed Use Communities: An Executive Summary" by David Goldberg of SmartGrowthAmerica. Commissioned by ANDP’s Mixed Income Communities Initiative (MICI), the report examines the growing challenge to housing affordability and quality of life in metro Atlanta.

DeKalb County program expands access to financial education and services
Furthering an important goal of the Sixth District’s Community Affairs program—improving access to banking—Howell has been an integral part of the DeKalb First Accounts Program, which connects unbanked low- and moderate-income individuals throughout metro Atlanta and South DeKalb County to traditional financial institutions.

Since its inception in 2002, the program has held 488 financial education workshops serving 4,000 students, 1,667 of whom were low- and moderate-income. A total of 567 bank accounts were opened as a result of the workshops.

The DeKalb First Accounts initiative was cited in testimony before the Senate Banking and Finance Committee as a unique wealth-building collaborative that involved banking regulatory agencies, the IRS, the cooperative extension service, local government, financial institutions, and other community partners.

Partnering with Georgia Project
Many areas throughout the country—both urban and rural—have experienced demographic shifts due to growing Hispanic and immigrant populations. The rural community of Dalton, Georgia has responded to this change with an innovative program to meet the needs of its diverse population.

The Georgia Project, a nonprofit organization formed in response to a significant increase in Spanish-speaking students in Dalton schools and throughout northwest Georgia, assists with the academic and social needs of Latino students. Working in collaboration with the University of Monterrey in Mexico, the project provides professional development for bilingual teachers and scholarships for bilingual high school graduates who plan to matriculate at Dalton State College as teachers.

To support their efforts, the Atlanta Fed partnered with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to host a Money Smart “train-the-trainer” workshop in Spanish for Georgia Project teachers and other Dalton employees.

Participants were certified to teach the Money Smart curriculum to Latino families in Dalton-Whitfield County. The event was sponsored by AmSouth Bank and Dalton-Whitfield County Government.

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Supporting the Sixth District’s Community Affairs program in meeting its goals, Regional Community Development Manager Nancy Montoya at the New Orleans Branch assumed a key collaborative role on several projects in 2004 that increase the capacity and efficiency of community and economic development (CED) stakeholders. Through her work with a variety of organizations, Montoya helped develop substantive training and networking opportunities for local CED partners, including bankers and nonprofits.

CED training for bankers
In response to bankers’ continuing demand for community development finance training programs created by Community Affairs, Montoya worked with the Birmingham Branch to provide training for 20 bankers in the Gulf Coast area of Alabama and Mississippi.

She also conducted a training session for 55 nonprofit organizations, developers, real estate agents, and bankers as part of Mississippi Home Corporation’s Annual Housing Conference.

Post-purchase homebuyer education curriculum
Several organizations collaborated to launch “Homewise,” a comprehensive post-purchase homebuyer education curriculum that alerts new homeowners about tasks and expenses that come with owning a home—both predictable and unexpected.

When the new program was unveiled to housing counselors at Mississippi Home Corporation’s (MHC’s) Annual Housing Conference in January 2004, Montoya presented information on predatory lending and related consumer concerns.

Working together on “Homewise” are MHC, the Mississippi Housing Initiative (MHI), Consumer Credit Counseling Service (CCCS) of Greater New Orleans, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Fannie Mae. Since its inception, the program has trained 165 participants representing 60 organizations throughout Mississippi and some neighboring markets in Louisiana.

Jump$tart coalitions in Louisiana and Mississippi
Montoya continued to work with Louisiana and Mississippi Jump$tart coalitions to improve the personal financial literacy of young adults. Last year, the Mississippi Secretary of State’s Office and Mississippi Jump$tart sponsored “Money Matters” seminars that reached over 2,000 students and 100 teachers.

Louisiana Jump$tart, in partnership with the LSU AgCenter, completed two years of “train-the-teacher” workshops to prepare free enterprise teachers to meet new curricular requirements that include personal finance instruction. By the end of the year, 407 teachers from 191 schools had attended the training. They will reach 35,000 students throughout 61 Louisiana parishes.

Roundtables for New Orleans area bankers
The New Orleans branch hosted four Interagency Quarterly Bankers Roundtables during 2004 to disperse information on community development topics.

The 2004 forums included presentations on Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) reporting changes, a community development industry outlook, and information about banking and financial services for women.

Wealth-building conference
A widely recognized speaker on wealth-building strategies, Montoya participated significantly in a major conference on individual development accounts (IDAs) sponsored by CFED in New Orleans. She served on the host committee as well as contributed to an IDA field strategy paper presented at the conference. In addition, she took part in a panel that discussed capacity challenges faced by both financial institutions and nonprofit partners in delivering IDAs.

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2004 marked a year of new partnerships in Tennessee. Working with traditional and non-traditional partners, Jessica LeVeen Farr at the Nashville Branch formed local, regional, and statewide coalitions to advance affordable housing, wealth-building, and related community development initiatives.

New housing association creates unified voice
A statewide conference in April 2004 organized by the Tennessee Housing Development Agency (THDA) set the stage for boosting the capacity of the state’s nonprofit housing organizations. The event not only provided training but also an opportunity for nonprofits to network with their peers from across the state.

Conference participants created a LISTSERV® to facilitate regular communication among nonprofits, funders, and other resource providers. They also formed a committee to explore the development of a statewide nonprofit housing association.

Community Housing Developers Association of Tennessee (CHDAT) will offer training and networking opportunities. It will also create a unified voice for nonprofits in housing and community development.

CHDAT’s mission is to build better communities in Tennessee by strengthening its members’ capacity to develop and provide access to safe, good quality, affordable housing.

Nashville forms wealth-building alliance
Over 100 partners representing business, community, government, and faith-based organizations joined last year to form the Nashville Wealth-Building Alliance (NWBA). The NWBA links partner organizations that provide services to help Nashville residents achieve self-sustaining financial independence.

Focusing initially on the “Earn It, Keep It, Save It” campaign, the NWBA will work through community organizations, social service providers, and employers to promote free tax assistance and inform eligible taxpayers about the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

The NWBA foresees a comprehensive wealth-building initiative that builds on free tax assistance and extends to include credit counseling, financial planning, individual development accounts, and homeownership counseling. Some of NWBA’s lead partners in addition to the Fed are Congressman Jim Cooper, United Way of Metropolitan Nashville, St. Thomas Health Services, Community Impact, and the Metropolitan Development Housing Agency.

Middle Tennessee Hispanic Consortium moves forward
Tennessee has been home to one of the past decade’s fastest growing Hispanic populations in the country, and many of the new immigrants are settling in the Middle Tennessee region. The Middle Tennessee Hispanic Consortium connects community-based organizations, banks, real estate agents, and governmental agencies that promote access to financial services and homeownership for the Hispanic community.

Formed after a statewide conference in April 2003, “New Neighbors—Opening Your Doors to the Hispanic Community,” the consortium has continued meeting to discuss new programs for the Hispanic community. The group is focusing on promoting “ITIN” mortgages that use individual taxpayer identification numbers for undocumented immigrants as well as increasing the number of Hispanic homeowners and improving Hispanic access to financial services.

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