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January 02, 2002
Florida Community Loan Fund Brings Sunshine to Low-income Communities
    by Anne Moore Odell

A wide lending focus helps the Florida Community Loan Fund provide the necessities of life throughout Florida.

Although many people think of Florida as the land of sunny skies and oranges, it has a darker side not often seen by vacationers and retirees. Florida is also a state where the working poor struggle to find housing and childcare, and the divide between the rich and poor is as wide as any state in the nation.

The Florida Community Loan Fund (FCLF) began supporting the creation of housing, jobs and social services in 1996, when it made its first loan. As the only statewide, non-profit financial fund in Florida, FCLF is positioned to offer investors a unique opportunity to support and provide capital to struggling communities in the Sunshine State.

"In Florida, we were behind the curve of community investing," explained FCLF Executive Director Ignacio Esteban. "We had our first loan in 1996, ten years behind other states, but we were able to learn from others' experiences. We are growing very fast."

In low-income communities where residents have a difficult time closing loans with traditional lenders, FCLF offers loans under the commercial prime rate to social-service-providing non-profits. FCLF has helped with the capital financing of 11 community facilities. One example is the Beth-El Farm Worker Ministry, which is using a FCLF loan to construct a childcare facility and the first charter school for farm worker children in Florida.

FCLF originated as a broad coalition of religious leaders who were concerned about the state's need for affordable housing, employment and social services. All seven Roman Catholic dioceses, almost every major bank in Florida, and several major national foundations helped create the initial base for the loan fund.

Many religious congregations have supported FCLF through the years with grants, loans and capital. But FLCF is hoping other groups of investors will see the value of investing in community development.

"We are very interested and happy to open our doors to individual investors," said Mr. Esteban. "The wealth that is here has an important role to play."

Individual investors can invest in FCLF with a minimum of $1,000. The fund has a strong payback rate; with over $4.4 million in total loans made to date, only $5,600 has not been recovered.

And the fund has achieved concrete results. Through FCLF loans, 649 units of affordable housing, 491 jobs, 16 minority businesses, and 2 business incubators have been created, in addition to the 11 community facilities mentioned previously.

Mr. Esteban asked for experienced investors in CDFIs to look at FCLF as a relatively new but growing organization.

"We are only just scratching the surface of what is out there," said Mr. Esteban. "The track record is amazing . . . in the next five years, we expect to do four times the amount that we have done in the first five years."

With future plans to add new lending initiatives to current offerings, FCLF focuses now on helping non-profit childcare providers and developing specific lending programs to meet the special needs of faith-based groups. It is also looking forward to expanding start-up organizations in rural areas.


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