Photo Credit: The New York Times

With over 20,000 patients across the city, Callen-Lorde Community Health Center has provided outpatient health care to New York City’s LGBTQ and homeless community for over 50 years. So, when COVID-19 infections in New York City spiked in early March and the emergency rooms and hospital beds were overflowing, Charles King, the CEO of Housing Works, knew who to call. Wendy Stark, the Executive Director of Callen-Lorde, quickly took him up on his proposition to work together.

“We quickly pivoted to be part of the city’s front-line health care response. And under very dire circumstances, our staff turned a hotel into a field hospital to serve COVID patients. We’ve needed more staff than we thought because people were sicker than we expected,” says Wendy.

In a matter of hours, Housing Works and Callen-Lorde converted a 133-room hotel in Queens into a hospital, pharmacy, and testing center. In addition to managing their telemedicine program for current patients, the Callen-Lorde team worked day and night to support the influx. And they were running out of money. The volume of their services increased, but payment and government support did not.

When the SBA CARES Act funding became available, Wendy immediately applied for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) with a large financial institution; they were not successful. Three days before the SBA portal opened for the second round Wendy held an all-team meeting to announce that Callen-Lorde had no choice but to furlough 80 employees— that’s when one of their employees referred them to us.

“It’s been incredibly emotional. The Spring Bank team worked over the weekend to help us secure the PPP loan, and by Monday morning, I delivered happy news to the team that we did not have to furlough anyone right now,” says Wendy. “We had a staff call with the Spring Bank team to celebrate.”

The PPP loan provides Callen-Lorde with two months of funding and time to secure longer-term fiscal support as their team continues to work, day and night. The transformation of the health care system, one that is accessible for all New Yorkers, is also of the highest priority for Wendy.

“People have talked about this moment as an equalizer. It’s not. COVID-19 has impacted people of color, and people with less access to ongoing services most acutely,” says Wendy. “We need a centralized, single-payer, unified system that works to the benefit of our entire society. We need a total transformation.”

Callen-Lorde and Housing Works continue to operate the working hospital at the hotel in Queens. They plan to serve as many people as they can for as long as they can. Partnerships with other health centers, affordable housing providers, and community-based organizations have been crucial to their journey. We are humbled and grateful to be one of those partners.

“As a result of COVID-19, we are now connected with a financial institution oriented to serve people who are underbanked. Our overnight partnership with Spring Bank shows the beautiful way a community can organize during a crisis. It’s important that we raise our voices together,” says Wendy.

Raise your voice on behalf of Callen-Lorde by donating to their emergency fund. Read a feature piece about Callen-Lorde in the New York Times. Learn more about their COVID-19 services. Read about PPP Loan forgiveness on our website.

 

Governor Cuomo Announces a 2020 Statewide Proposal for CDFIs

At the beginning of this new decade, we shared our 2020 vision: To continue to explore ways we can invest our dollars responsibly, so more people have access to the financial tools they need to build wealth. Thankfully, we aren’t standing alone in this work. We proudly share our mission of financial inclusion with the 83 other US Treasury Certified Community Development Financial Institution Funds (CDFl’s)– mission-driven financial institutions, banks, credit unions, and nonprofits–in New York State. And, Governor Cuomo does too.

Governor Cuomo recently announced the “21st Proposal of his 2020 State of the State: Expanding Access to Safe and A/fordable Financial Services.” In partnership with CDFls, his proposal includes the following strategies:

  • $25 million in new funding over five years to increase access to affordable financial products in underserved communities across New YorkState through, New York’s Community Development Financial Institutions Fund (CDFI)
  • The launch of a statewide “Office of Financial Inclusion and Empowerment” as a single-stop provider of financial services and providers across housing, student loan, debt, and general financial literacy
  • The expansion of access to safe and affordable banking services, credit and financial education, particularly for women and communities of color, typically excluded from the current financial systems.

To execute these strategies, Governor Cuomo proposes to work with CDFls, who, like us, are often the sole providers of banking and other financial products and services in low-income communities. Under the Governor’s proposal, participating CDFls will leverage this funding, providing upwards of $300 million in targeted investment in underserved communities in New York for consumers, affordable housing, and small businesses.
Governor Cuomo’s vision includes expanding access to low-cost bank accounts to low-income New Yorkers who often find that the only accessible banking service in their communities are high-cost check cashers who take huge finance fees out of people’s paychecks. According to the FDIC, approximately 25 percent of New York households do not have bank accounts or seldom use one and rely on costly non-bank services for their financial activities. Expanding financial literacy education and access to microcredit for small businesses is also part of the proposal.
In a press release announcing his strategies, Governor Cuomo acknowledged the prevalence of exploitation by predatory lenders in low-income communities in New York:

“We’ve made significant strides expanding access to banking services for low income New Yorkers, but too many people still live in banking deserts,” Governor Cuomo said. “As a result, these New Yorkers often turn to costly check-cashing services or take out illegal predatory payday loans because they can’t access affordable small business loans at community banks. These sweeping proposals will provide New Yorkers with the services they need to build their credit, improve financial literacy, and take charge of their economic futures – helping build a fairer and stronger New York.”

Linda MacFarlane, the Executive Director of CDFI, Community Loan Fund of the Capital Region and chair of the New York State CDFI Coalition of which we are a proud member, has been discussing the proposal with the Governor’s office, the New York State Department of Financial Services and Empire State Development Corp. and has “high hopes” for the Governor’s new proposal.

We do too. We are proud to serve New York City as one of 83 CDFIs in the state who helped shape the New York State CDFI Fund to expand access to safe and affordable products. Creating access to credit and wealth-building financial tools for communities typically excluded is why we headquartered in the Bronx—and why we continue to explore ways in which to serve New York City as a mission-driven, ethical bank.

We invite you to join us in the mission. 

Register for this year’s NY State CDFI Conference in Albany, March 30-31st. You will learn more about how you can join CDFIs in making a difference every day in New York, State. Invest your dollars locally with us. Open a Green Checking account with us today. When you bank in your community, you support the credit and wealth-building of your neighbors and local businesses.

Read our 2020 Vision and follow us on LinkedIn, where we share stories about what it means to be an ethical bank, and our vision for a shared and durable prosperity for all.

When we opened our doors in the Bronx over twelve years ago, we did it with Ariva, a community-based, nonprofit organization. We have been on this journey together. Not only do we share headquarters at our Bronx offices on 167th street, but we also share a mission to strengthen financial stability and expand the financial inclusion of  New Yorkers.

Ariva provides free tax preparation and free financial counseling to low-income residents of New York City. In December, Ariva received one of eight designations from the Department of Consumer Affair’s Office of Financial Empowerment as a New York City Financial Empowerment Center—one of two in the Bronx—and we are, of course, excited to share this news.

“As a New York City Financial Empowerment Center, we can extend our reach and better serve our clients. It also adds a new dimension to our work and the impact we make,” says Irene Baldwin, Executive Director of Ariva.

Since 2003, Ariva has prepared free tax returns for over 100,000 clients, returning more than $150 million in total refunds. Returns vary in dollar amount, and many of Ariva’s clients return year after year. They often count on their tax return to support their annual household income. Eighty-eight percent of Ariva’s clients earn less than $30,000 annually; Ariva knows that even a small refund can prevent one of their clients from using predatory financial services and can help a family start saving.

\Witnessing families gain confidence in their financial knowledge, make more informed financial decisions, and increase their financial security are a few of the reasons Ariva’s hardworking staff and committed volunteers know their work matters. We are proud to host one of their year-round tax preparation sites and one of their financial counselors in our branch. For Irene, the host matters:

“Spring Bank is the perfect host. We share values and mission. As one of the only banks in the neighborhood, people come to the Bronx branch for their financial needs. We provide complimentary services and offerings and refer clients to each other“.

Ariva’s services are available to all. Their winter hours for their free tax preparation program are (69 E. 167th Street)

  • Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays: 4 to 7:30 pm
  • Wednesdays: 12 to 7 pm
  • Saturdays: 10 am to 4 pm

The hours for free one-on-one counseling are: (until April 30th)

  • Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays & Thursdays: 11 am to 7:00 pm
  • Fridays: 2 to 5 pm
  • Saturdays: 9 am to 5 pm

Clients are invited to walk-in, and no appointments are needed. Read this checklist to make sure you bring the proper paperwork before arriving.  For more information about Ariva’s mission, services and locations across New York City, visit www.ariva.org

Corporate social responsibility. Sustainably responsible investing (SRI). Ethical banking. Banks have joined the world of sustainable business. And the language about their on-the-ground environmental and social impact isn’t exactly clear. Banks know the growing LOHAS (Lifestyle on Health and Sustainability) and the conscious consumer movements value over 300B dollars. Creating a prime marketing opportunity for financial institutions, they brand products like “Clean Energy Savings” and “Green Checking” (check out the Spring Bank Checking account after you finish this blog!) So, it is greenwashing? Or is your financial institution legitimately leveraging their investments to make a positive difference?

Here are three tips to know if your bank is ethical:

  1. Your Bank’s Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) rating?
    Start by looking at your bank’s publicly available CRA rating. The CRA legislation was passed in 1977 to prevent the practice of redlining and to minimize systemic financial exclusion. We are proud to have received the highest available CRA rating from the FDIC, “Outstanding,” based on our record of meeting the credit needs of low and moderate-income neighborhoods in 2018.
  2. Is Your Bank a US Treasury Certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI)?
    Since 1994 the United States Treasury has certified a singular number of banks as CDFIs based on their use of deposits to provide low-and moderate-income communities the credit they need. If your bank is a designated CDFI, you can be certain that your money is lent to the communities that need capital the most. We proudly became designated as a CDFI in 2014 and have received numerous awards and recognition from the CDFI Fund.
  3. Is Your Bank a B Corp?

    B Corps, or Benefit Corporations, lead the way of metrics-based reporting and transparency to impact in the sustainable business movement. Businesses obtain B Corp status in two ways: completing the B Impact Assessment and through the legal business structure of a Benefit Corporation. B Corps receive a score through the B Impact Assessment which measures the impact on workers, customers, suppliers, community and the environment. Stakeholder primacy drives B Corps to “build a durable and shared prosperity for all.”

    We are honored to be New York State’s first B Corp bank and to receive four awards as Best For The World among the top 10 percent of all B Corps—just last week! And to that point, next week marks the annual B Corp retreat in Los Angeles. We are excited to gather with the movement. If you are attending, we would love to have you join our CEO, Demetris Giannoulias, and our partners at Neighborhood Financial Trust for a Tuesday breakout session at 2:45 PM titled: “Employee Financial Health as Smart Business.” We will address the financial challenges faced by employers and employees and available tools by which to build healthy financial workplaces. Check the schedule on the retreat app on Sunday for more details.

    We’d be happy to talk with you about financial inclusion, affordable banking products like our Start Loan and Green Checking account and how together, we can build an economy that benefits all of us.

    Find the CRA rating of any bank in the USA. Learn more about ethical B Corp banks and their scores. Read about our 2019 Best For The World award.

In Partnership with Habitat New York City Community Fund

“We have to maintain access. People have a right to live here, to build families here. If we don’t have a preservation mindset, we will cease to be New York City,” Chris Illum, Executive Director of Habitat NYC Community Fund.

Take a walk through the Lower East Side (LES) of Manhattan, and you’ll soon notice a common trend on every block: “For rent” signs plastered on once-thriving neighborhood businesses. Take a walk through the South Bronx, and unsurprisingly, you’ll see the same signs on both commercial and residential properties.

“People said the LES would never be worth much. No one saw the influx of foreign investment coming. And it’s happening all over the city. If we don’t preserve the housing that exists, if we don’t have a preservation mindset and maintain housing for all types of people, our city is only for millionaires,” explains Chris Illum, Executive Director of Habitat NYC Community Fund.

The Habitat NYC Community Fund is a critical part of their Housing Preservation Program, a multi-faceted initiative that assists low-to-moderate-income New York City homeowners in income-restricted cooperative developments, with programs designed to strengthen their ability to remain in their homes.  The fund was created to preserve existing affordable housing properties in New York City by providing small-scale financing. When their team approached us about a community investment opportunity in the South Bronx, we knew we wanted to consider it.

654 Baretto. This 48-unit, Housing Development Fund Co-Op in Hunts Point had not been fully occupied in years. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid water bills, dozens of maintenance issues, and years of back taxes put this property into a “catch-22” as Akbar Rizvi, our VP of Lending explains it. The building needed capital to fix the repairs to prevent foreclosure, but it was unable to secure financing because it couldn’t afford the water bill.

Quoted in a recent article in Next City, called A Lifeline for Preserving Limited-Equity Co-ops in New York, Akbar says:

“Most banks would hear that and go, ‘You know what? No thanks. This doesn’t make sense.’ But what helped us move forward was our commitment to understanding the full story and not jumping to conclusions — understanding what this HDFC had been through.”

We are proud to have joined efforts with the Habitat NYC Community Fund by loaning $265,000 to the co-op for debt-consolidation. So why did we take this risk when most banks would not? It started with a community partnership. Our relationships with Chris lllum and Karen Haycox, CEO of Habitat for Humanity New York City, provided the long-term credibility and trust for us to consider this loan.

“They have always been strong community advocates and supported our work of preservation. We’ve always wanted to do a deal with Spring Bank, so when 654 Baretto came to us, we knew it was a good place to start together,” says Chris.

Secondly, Habitat for Humanity New York City recently became a fellow Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI). Certified by the US Department of Treasury, this designation allows them to make loans to existing resident-owned, multi-family affordable housing developments and nonprofit affordable housing developers. As a CDFI, Habitat for Humanity New York was able to launch their community fund and partner with other innovative lenders in restoration and preservation projects like 654 Baretto.

“Part of the reason we became a CDFI and launched the fund was to ensure working-class folks who fight so hard to be in this city can create long-term, generational wealth over time,” says Chris.

And lastly, the preservation of community in the South Bronx is key to our mission as a B Corp and as an ethical bank. Building an inclusive economy requires a collective effort.

“We are a small fund. We are not going to solve the housing crisis in New York City single-handedly. And we can’t build ourselves out of the problem. Spring Bank helped us to stem the tide for this property. We know community funds like this create stability and access to our city,” says Chris.

We couldn’t agree more.

“Partnering with Habitat for Humanity New York City to meet the financing needs of this borrower aligned with the bank’s mission in many ways: maintaining affordable housing as well as improving energy efficiency. These are tremendous issues in our community, so this was a win-win,” says Akbar.

Collective investment. Community partnership. And creating access to homes and opportunities to build wealth for all the hardworking people of New York City. This is the work we love to do.

Learn about the Habitat NYC Community Fund. Learn more about the inner workings of the 654 Barreto financing on Next City by Jared Brey. And bank local. Open your Business checking or personal Green Checking, account with us today.

A piece by Oscar Perry Abello of Next City

A few weeks ago, we celebrated a milestone- surpassing the 1000 loan mark in our Employee Opportunity Loan program and providing credit to New York City and Westchester workers when they needed it most, helping them build or improve credit scores and accumulate savings.

One of the social enterprises we partner with is Greyston Bakery.

In his recent article “What If Your Job Could Be Your Credit Score?” in Next City, reporter Oscar Perry Abello, wrote, “You may not have heard of Greyston Bakery, in Yonkers, New York, but if you are a fan of Ben & Jerry’s Brownie Batter Ice Cream, you know its brownies.”

Not only is Greyston Bakery the supplier of the brownies you enjoy in Ben & Jerry’s ice creams, they’ve also established a unique employment model called “Open Hiring.” No background checks. No questions asked. People put their name on a list, and when a job is available, they get a call. Greyston Bakery’s employment model provides a second chance for people with a criminal record, among other barriers to employment.

In his article, Abello explains the impact our Employee Opportunity Loan for the employees of Greyston Bakery. As Abigail Saunders, the Human Resource Director of Greyston Bakery, noted, “A lot of HR professionals don’t understand financial problems at home might affect performance,” Saunders says. “The (loan) process is very painless. For whatever they need, it’s great. One of the employees took a loan out to help out a family member.”

We are incredibly proud to partner with Greyston Bakery as they support the financial health and new beginnings of their employees. Through its Open Hiring model, Greyston Bakery demonstrates equity, inclusion, and people-first business. It’s our privilege to stand with them as mission-driven, financial institution, and fellow B Corp.

Read the full story on Next City. Learn more about our Employee Opportunity Loan and the details of our Financial Empowerment Program, which includes free financial counseling with our partner, Neighborhood Trust Financial Partners. Or call Melanie Stern, Director of Consumer Lending, at 718-879-5198 to sign your company up today.

woman at desk, holding brochure Celebrating 100’s of Financially Empowered Employees with over 1000 Employee Opportunity Loans

Crave Fishbar and Grand Street Settlement. These are just two of the companies in New York City we’ve supported over the last few years as they support the financial wellbeing of their employees. Through our Financial Empowerment Program, these social enterprises offer their employees access to both free financial counseling via our partner, Neighborhood Trust Financial Partners, and our Employee Opportunity Loan. By offering their employees this financial employee benefit, they create healthier, more productive workplaces.  And we are proud to announce, we’ve provided over 1000 loans to New York City and Westchester workers when they most needed it and helped them build or improve credit scores and accumulate savings.

Why is this a milestone worth celebrating? Because half of American employees are very concerned about their financial security, and two-thirds don’t have enough savings to cover three months of expenses. Financial security—or lack thereof– impacts productivity. According to a January 2019 report from the American Management Association, “Employers are starting to realize that it’s not just the physical health that impacts employees but their financial health as well. Employees who are financially sound and without significant money worries at home are happier and more focused on the job.”

Whether businesses prepare for it or not, financial stress shows up at work. We know our Financial Empowerment Program offers a solution to ease not only this stress but also empowers employees with greater financial capability. We don’t claim to solve all the financial concerns of employees, but we do know we’ve helped working New Yorkers bridge the occasional gap between unexpected expenses and available savings and help to alleviate financial stress.

“Every time an employee has an emergency, they can use the Employee Opportunity Loan instead of going to an exploitative online, payday lender or borrowing against retirement. Through our Financial Empowerment Program, we seek to improve long-term financial outcomes for employers and employees. We feel we are making a difference,” says Melanie Stern, Director of Consumer Lending.

Our data tell us we are making a difference. On average, people who secure our Employee Opportunity Loan and make timely payments have seen their credit scores increase 56 points or see a first-time score of as much as 700 points after one year. Healthy credit scores create access people need to build wealth. Employers can play a huge part in this! Our vision is for every New York City employer to adopt a Financial Empowerment Program as part of their employee benefits package.

“Ultimately, our goal is for every employer to understand that financial health and security creates healthier, more productive workplaces,” says Melanie.

How does it work? The Financial Empowerment Program serves as a tech-enabled comprehensive financial health tool for an employee with two connected opportunities:

  1. The Spring Bank Employee Opportunity Loan provides up to$2500 with no minimum credit score requirement and built-in savings and credit building features. Payments are directly deposited from payroll to a savings account, and borrowers can seamlessly continue to make deposits into savings after the loan has been paid. We accept ID NYC to make it accessible for most New Yorkers.
  2. The Trusted Advisor program from Neighborhood Trust Financial Partners gives employees access to free, unlimited, and personalized financial counseling via phone, Skype, or text. NTFP counselors help their clients create financial action plans and provide weekly check-ins to assess progress

We know that financial counseling, when supported by access to an affordable, small-dollar loan provides a comprehensive financial health benefit for employees. Via our fintech platform employees can take advantage of either or both offerings. And it’s zero cost, zero hassle for employers. Learn more about our Employee Opportunity Loan or how you can support your employees with our Financial Empowerment Program by contacting Melanie Stern at mstern@springbankny.com or at (718) 879-5198.