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September 24, 2014
Three CDFIs receive NEXT Awards for Opportunity Finance
    by Robert Kropp

The annual awards, which focused this year on expanding affordable housing, will presented at the annual meeting of the Opportunity Finance Network in October.

As recently as February of this year, home foreclosures were still at a rate double that of before the financial crisis. Wall Street and other moneyed interests prefer to accentuate the positive—foreclosure rates in February were down 15% from the year before—but there remains much pain and wrenching dislocation among the great majority of Americans unable to reap the benefits of recent stock market surges.

All of which speaks to the relevance of Opportunity Finance Network (OFN), a national network of community development financial institutions (CDFIs), and its partners—Wells Fargo Bank and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation—focusing on affordable housing in this year's Wells Fargo NEXT Awards for Opportunity Finance. The NEXT Awards provide $8.25 million annually to CDFIs whose business models show promise of expanding beyond geographical coverage strategies.

Three CDFIs are the beneficiaries of this year's NEXT Awards:

The Florida Community Loan Fund (FCLF) won a $4 million NEXT Opportunity Award for its plans to expand its successful Florida Preservation Fund, which was established by the Florida State Legislature in 2008. The Fund is a “successful, affordable, multi-family rental housing preservation program which focuses on hard-to-serve 5-50 unit properties across Florida,” OFN stated.

New Jersey Community Capital (NJCC) won a $2.25 million NEXT Opportunity Award for its plan to expand ReStart, the CDFI's response to to the foreclosure crisis. ReStart “acquires pools of underwater mortgages and provides homeowners with principal reductions and one-on-one counseling to protect them from displacement,” NJCC states, and was launched in 2012 with the purchase of 261 troubled mortgages. One hundred twenty-five of the mortgages were in the Newark, NJ, region.

“Stable and affordable housing is the foundation of healthy communities,” said Wayne Meyer, President of NJCC. “ReStart both prevents displacement and repairs already-vacant housing units at a meaningful scale. This NEXT Award is both a tremendous honor and a testament to ReStart’s value as a tool for spurring large-scale recovery in communities that continue to struggle through the ongoing housing crisis.”

Rural Community Assistance Corporation (RCAC), located in California, won a $2 million NEXT Opportunity Award for its plan to expand its Development Solutions initiative and increase the supply of safe, quality affordable housing, especially on tribal lands.

“RCAC’s Development Solutions program is doing what no one else is, targeting severely underserved rural areas and tribal communities,” said Mark Pinsky, President and CEO of OFN.

“The housing crash that occurred several years ago still resonates today—especially in the distressed communities CDFIs serve—which is why the NEXT Awards is focusing on innovation in housing finance,” Allison Clark of the MacArthur Foundation said. “We see a tremendous need in this sector and believe that these outstanding Awardees have developed promising products and services to help address that need.”

“What’s important about the NEXT Awards this year is providing financing to CDFIs to help keep housing affordable in some of the hardest-hit communities in the country,” Pinsky said. “These creative and innovative CDFIs have developed scalable, replicable models which provide more than affordable housing—they offer hope, and opportunity for all.”

The NEXT Awards will honor the Awardees on Wednesday, October 15 at the OFN 30th Anniversary Conference in Denver, CO.


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