Happening now! The Urban Institute is hosting three-day online policy debate about Meeting Community Needs: The Promise of Community Development Financial Institutions. Follow along here as leaders in the field CDFI discuss how to improve the financial, economic, and social health of low- and moderate-income communities.

Moderator Ellen Seidman, Non-Resident Fellow at the Urban Institute, set up the debate this morning by highlighting how government and business partners have come to rely on CDFIs, especially considering the financial and housing crises of the past decade. CDFIs are asked to go beyond finance and build coalitions and partnerships and shape policy at the federal, state, and local levels. 

Her first question was, “For CDFI leaders: how do you go about defining the challenges of your community (and defining your community) and determining which of those challenges you will tackle, in what manner, in what order, and with what partners? For CDFI partners: what do you see as the critical challenges facing CDFIs as they work with their communities?”

HOPE’s Bill Bynum answered from the CDFI leader perspective, saying:

“The primary constraint to increasing the impact of CDFIs is capital.  And America’s most vulnerable places are capital starved. ... Few entities have the ability of CDFIs to add value toward addressing such a wide range of economic and social needs.  In many ways, CDFIs are the “Swiss army knife” of community development.”  

OFN’s Jennifer Vassiloff picked up on Bynum’s analogy:

“I love Bill Bynum’s image of a CDFI serving as the ‘Swiss army knife’ of community development. As a national membership association of CDFIs, OFN seeks to maximize the effectiveness of hundreds of ‘Swiss army knives’ through peer learning opportunities, industry research, direct financing and public policy advocacy. ... A challenge for a national organization like OFN is to address issues relevant to the entire CDFI community while also assisting important subsets of our members with unique needs. The market conditions facing a small business lender in the Delta require a different approach from that of a CDFI operating on Native lands or one financing affordable housing in Chicago. OFN's challenge is to offer value to all types of CDFIs while also strengthening the industry as a whole. CDFIs are already accomplishing so much but the potential for increased impact is great and must be realized.”

Other participants chiming in on the debate over the next two days include Janis Bowdler, JP Morgan Chase; Elyse Cherry, Boston Community Capital; Congressman Dan Kildee; Brett Theodos, Urban Institute; and Luz Urrutia, Opportunity Fund.

Debate questions and responses will be posted ongoing through Friday, February 9. 


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