A program meant to finance people and entrepreneurs of color announced it has loaned $7.3 million to Fort Worth residents since it started in January.

At a meeting Wednesday, the city of Fort Worth-funded program, CDFI Friendly Fort Worth, shared updates on its work so far. Community development financial institutions are organizations dedicated to serving low-income and underserved communities. 

Historically, the financial services industry routinely discriminated against and excluded people of color from accessing loans or classified them as too risky, said Mark Pinsky, founding partner of CDFI Friendly America.

What’s a Community development financial institution?

A community development financial institution is a financial organization that is dedicated to financing underserved communities. The institutions are funded by the private sector and can take the form of banks, credit unions, microloan funds and venture capital providers, according to the Community Developmental Financial Institutions Fund.

Pinsky said when economic conditions get worse and interest rates get higher, community development financial institutions tend to become more active and more productive. That’s because the organizations have a different business model and are not trying to maximize profit, Pinsky said. 

“There are large numbers of folks in this city, as well as in most cities in this country, that have not been given the opportunity to pursue their dreams,” Pinsky said. “To pursue the business idea, to buy a home, to be part of an affordable housing development, to, you know, expand a nonprofit, all those things.” 

Business owners like Erika Ramos, cofounder of Game Theory Restaurant and Bar in Fort Worth, know the challenges of financing a business. When the business was starting, Ramos and her husband, Patrick Lai, didn’t have any prior experience to lean on to make banks feel comfortable providing a loan. So they received a lot of denials, she said. 

“It was even difficult to find a space and landlords that were willing to work with us at that startup point,” Ramos said. “Which then prevented us from getting quotes as far as what it would take to build our space out and create our restaurant.” 

Ramos said the more that can be done about bridging the gap of lenders who are willing to be more flexible with lending, the better off the city will be. 

The loans given out by the program were used in a variety of ways. Of the 69 loans, 39 were mortgages, 19 consumer loans and 11 were small business loans, Pinsky said. 

Ron Bowie, president of Hey You! Signs, said he needed a loan to restart his business. When the pandemic hit, he wasn’t able to sell his foldable white boards at trade shows and sporting events when everything shut down. He was out of business, he said. 

He got assistance from the Small Business Administration, but he said he needed more help to get off the ground again. Banks were telling him no.

After getting connected to the program, he received an offer for a loan.

“All of a sudden, I’m alive,” Bowie said. “The company is alive.”

Tami Ellis needed a car loan. Ellis, who worked in lending for 30 years, knew it would be difficult to receive a loan. She also turned to the CDFI Friendly Fort Worth. She received a loan from On the Road Lending, which recently partnered with CDFI Friendly Fort Worth.

“I no longer have to deal with the anxiety of getting back and forth to my job,” Ellis said. 

Christina Brooks, chief equity officer and diversity and inclusion department director at the city of Fort Worth, said it takes a tremendous amount of capital to physically locate a community development financial institution to a certain geographic location. But with the CDFI Friendly model, Fort Worth can access a network of 1,300 across the country with different specializations to help people get loans. 

“We’ve seen study after study — disparities studies, economic development studies — and the central threat is access to capital,” Brooks said. “And so that’s why we’re here today to talk about solutions, to talk about what can be here in Fort Worth.”

Pinsky said he hopes to reach $20 million in financing by the end of the year and $250 million in five years. He said the program is on track for the goals.

CDFI Friendly Fort Worth plans to be fully independent and operational by May 2023 and will have a board of directors and an executive director. The program was funded with $3 million by the city of Fort Worth using American Rescue Plan Act funds.  

Business owners like Ramos believe it’s going to take education, mentorship and trust to better assist entrepreneurs and people of color in the city.

“It’s very common that you find distrust with lenders and banks in certain communities,” Ramos said. “And it’s going to take meeting with people in person, knocking on business’s doors, asking to meet the owner, reaching out to owners, asking them to share a coffee or lunch with you, and really starting to rebuild some of that trust that I think has been lost in the past.” 

Seth Bodine is a business and economic development reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at seth.bodine@fortworthreport.org and follow on Twitter at @sbodine120.

This story has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of Tami Ellis’ name and where she received a loan.

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Seth Bodine

Seth Bodine is the business reporter for the Fort Worth Report. He previously covered agriculture and rural issues in Oklahoma for the public radio station, KOSU, as a Report for America corps member....