Thanks to all who tuned into our virtual annual meeting on November 10! We appreciate everyone who participated, especially Self-Help Credit Union Board member La-Tasha Best-Gaddy, who kicked off the meeting and emceed, and Scott Misner, Board Chair, who directed the SHCU Board business meeting.
The overarching theme of the meeting can be summed up as “progress in a painful time.” Self-Help leaders recognized that the last 18 months have been devastating, as 759,000 Americans have died from COVID, and nearly everyone has been affected by human and financial losses. Much of the meeting was devoted to reporting on how Self-Help has responded by expanding our products, services and lending innovation during this time.
We had a great lineup of speakers who shared information about Self-Help's financial status, our work in affordable housing, our green impact as we incorporate sustainability into our work, our lending and macroeconomic conditions that affect our members.
A few brief highlights from the meeting:
Martin Eakes and Deborah McKetty were elected to generally elected seats. Scott Misner and Tessa Petit were elected to worker-member elected seats. In addition, SHCU’s worker-members had previously elected Samantha Pratt as an incoming worker-member board representative.
SHCU President Randy Chambers asked for a moment of silence to remember two long-time, beloved staff members who recently passed away, Lavern Coley (Greensboro, NC) and Wanda Singleton (Rosman, NC). We are thinking of their friends and family as we at Self-Help mourn these losses, too.
Randy presented SHCU’s financial results through end of September 2021. He noted that members have increased savings, while demand for loans has been low compared to past trends. “People are worried about whether they should be borrowing money, even as jobs come back.”
While commenting on this decline in borrowing, Randy said that loan demand has been ticking upward in recent months. “We want to continue to identify loan opportunities that will be productive for our members.”
Randy shared that throughout the pandemic, Self-Help’s primary commitment has continued to be protecting the health and safety of our members, our staff and the broader community. We are in the midst of implementing a vaccine requirement for all staff (with religious or medical accommodations as needed), and we continue to practice strong safety protocols at all of our branches. We also continue to work one-on-one with our borrowers to ensure they’re able to stay successful in their loans even through disruptions in their income.
Randy reported that Self-Help’s financial status is strong, as affirmed by a recent audit, and we’re ready to continue using our financial strength to serve members and work with partners to expand financial opportunities in the communities we serve.
Randy also gave an update on member services (look for more info in the new year!) and Self-Help branches. In the past year we opened two new branches, one in Jacksonville, Florida and one in Greenville, South Carolina. We’re also looking forward to opening new branches next year in Tallahassee, Miami Springs and Winter Park, all in Florida.
Affordable Rental Housing
“Having a stable home, it’s the beginning of everything.” - Yolanda Winstead, President and CEO of DHIC, speaking in a video on the new Willard Street Apartments
Brika Eklund, Director of Real Estate, discussed how affordable rental housing fits in with our work. While Self-Help has a strong focus on ownership, our Real Estate team also is responding to the need for safe, affordable rental housing. “We recognize that homeownership is not always the very first step for families,” Brika said, “and affordable rental housing provides stability, safety and access to economic opportunities that can be a pathway to ownership.”
Self-Help supports affordable rental housing in two ways. One is as an active housing developer, as with the Willard Street Apartments. In other cases, we work more behind the scenes as a facilitator or Master Developer. As examples of Master Developer projects, Brika cited Homestead Gardens in Chapel Hill, NC; Mill House in Greensboro, NC; and potentially Fruitvale in Oakland, California.
Brika’s presentation included a video on the new Willard Street Apartments, which opened this year to provide 82 units of affordable housing in downtown Durham.
Self-Help’s Green Impact
“The decisions you make here will help determine whether children will have food and water.” — Kenyan climate activist Elizabeth Wathuti
Melissa Malkin-Weber, Sustainability Director, discussed Self-Help’s commitments as a community development organization to make sustainability part of our everyday work. Our commercial lending drives much of Self-Help’s green impact. Melissa shared that in that sector we have invested a total of $409 million in 274 green nonprofits, businesses and projects. That includes $189 million to help finance green, energy efficient buildings, such as the Pueblo Health Clinic, a net zero energy building in Colorado.
Melissa also discussed the importance of policy and advocacy. “What we can do as an organization by ourselves is not adequate to the challenge that’s in front of us,” so we also “pull the biggest levers we can get our hands on”—which is joining partners and peers to advocate for stronger environmental policies. One example is a report we produced earlier this year with recommendations for incorporating greater sustainability into community finance policies.
For individuals looking for ways to make a difference, Melissa said that recycling and other standard sustainability practices are great, and she also urged the audience to consider where their banking dollars are going. Deposits from Self-Help members support our green initiatives, and members can be assured that we do not invest in fossil fuels.
Doing More for Small Businesses
“A small business is an amazing way to serve and leave an impact on the world you live in.” - Nicole Snow, founder and CEO of Darn Good Yarn
Jennifer Sherwin, a Senior Loan Officer on our Commercial Lending Team, discussed a pilot program we launched this year to make more financing available to small businesses. As the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) came to an end, we at Self-Help knew that small businesses would continue to face obstacles to surviving the pandemic. We wanted to find an affordable, streamlined way to support businesses, especially those run by people of color and those that didn’t have access to PPP loans.
Based on a staff-driven request, Self-Help committed $1 million to a COVID recovery loan for small businesses. We named the product “Pivot Loans.” A grant from Wells Fargo allowed us to offer $1.7 million in these affordable, flexible loans at 3% interest. Pivot Loans are part of a limited pilot program offered in North Carolina and Illinois.
Since April 2021, we’ve approved 33 Pivot Loans, with nearly all going to people of color. We are now looking at ways to extend this pilot loan program through the first part of next year.
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” - Frederick Douglass, quoted by Martin Eakes during the meeting
CEO Martin Eakes began with praise for Self-Help staff and Board members, whom he called “the greatest people on earth,” and expressed appreciation for hard work during the past 18 months as Self-Help expanded services to members during the pandemic. He said that everyone he knew has lost someone from COVID, and he has experienced personal losses in his own family.
On the positive side, Martin noted that “sometimes hard times bring opportunities to serve more intensely.” Among the highlights he mentioned:
Under the federal Paycheck Protection Program, Self-Help made $253 million in forgivable loans, “giving an injection into communities we care so much about.”
Self-Help has continued to grow and expand its service area. Much of our growth in membership came with Self-Help Federal’s recent merger with Lower Valley Credit Union in the state of Washington. Lower Valley CU, located in Washington’s Yakima Valley, has 18,000 members who are mostly Latino. Martin said this is “one of the most exciting credit unions we’ve ever merged with.”
From the beginning of the pandemic, Self-Help made a commitment of no layoffs to staff, and beginning in January, the organization’s minimum wage will be $18 to $20 an hour, depending on the location.
Martin also took a look at the larger economic situation that we’re operating in now, including the racial wealth gap and rising home prices. “The single most unacceptable statistic in the American economy is that Black and Latino families own 1/10 of the wealth of white families.”
Addressing the wealth gap becomes even more daunting given national economic trends. Martin presented data on the acceleration in home prices, showing that, overall, home prices have increased approximately 25% since the end of 2019. At the same time, the real salary levels of families are not nearly keeping pace. To make matters worse, prices on the most inexpensive houses—those that should be most affordable—have gone up by 180% since 2012, far outpacing price increases for more expensive homes.
“Those of us who are progressives have got to recognize that we can’t solve this problem without providing a greater supply of affordable housing,” Martin said.
He also said we can’t improve our future until we have confronted our history. “We at Self-Help continue to raise our voice for economic justice, for wealth building and for affordable homeownership in every single policy setting we can access. Until people of color are granted respect and equal economic and political opportunities, our job is not done. Until immigrant families cannot be jailed in cages on our southern border, and until Dreamers who know no other country than this one can qualify for federal student aid for college and grad school, just so they can go back and serve their communities, our job is not done. Until working families of modest means have a fair shot at a life with basic financial security, our job is just not done. We need to make sure the American Dream does not become the American Delusion.”
Martin concluded by saying he’s excited about the months ahead and expressed confidence that we will accomplish much. He thanked members and staff for being part of this “journey for freedom.”
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NOTE: Our affiliate, Self-Help Federal Credit Union, held its annual meeting on November 3. You can find the minutes of that meeting here.