Sometimes all we need is a little extra push to achieve our goals. Whether it’s in the form of verbal encouragement, monetary assistance, or well placed favor, a little help from others can break down barriers to success. However, oftentimes those who need a little extra nudge the most aren’t in a position to receive help. For example, a lot of low income communities are on the cusp of revitalization, they just lack a few key resources that are necessary to overcome obstacles.
Lisa Jones has made it her job to offer communities these resources. She is the Program Manager for the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund (CDFI) Bond Guarantee Program at the Department of Treasury and in this capacity she has worked tirelessly to foster investment and economic development in low-income communities by providing loans to those who live in these communities. She recently sat down with Christopher Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER to talk about how she brought about these changes.
Jones is a winner of the Citizen Services category for the Partnership for Public Service’s Service to America Medals, or the SAMMIES— an award that acknowledges the best and the brightest in the federal public sector. Jones was recognized for her work in establishing a long-term bond guarantee program at the Department of Treasury in order to stimulate economic growth in low-income communities.
The CDFI Bond Guarantee Program seeks to address community development in low-income communities across the United States that don’t typically have access to long term capital. The program’s community development finance institutions take the funds and invest in underserved community projects like small businesses, affordable housing, daycare centers, charter schools, and healthcare facilities.
CDFI receives funds from the Department of Treasury and lends these funds to businesses and residents in the target communities. “We provide 30-year capital, allowing the recipients to invest in longer term projects. These big projects have a huge impact on communities by improving lives, providing jobs, creating sources of revenue, and providing an engine for economic growth,” Jones explained.
Providing these funds gives individuals who live in these communities’ opportunities that they wouldn’t have had otherwise. One example of this is found in West Philadelphia’s 60th St. Corridor. “This community was blighted and boarded up for over 20 years and through our debt investment in the reinvestment fund, they were able to finance affordable housing and small businesses,” Jones explained.
These efforts have served as an economic engine to revitalization and has allowed the people of the corridor to take back their community from the grips of poverty. For example, an institution in Arizona received approval for $100 million to go towards living and health facilities for low-income Latino communities and $16 million in loans was recently approved to provide financing for commercial real estate projects on Native American lands in Oklahoma.
However, the process to receive funds is extremely rigorous. Each potential recipient has to go through a credit assessment and analysis to make sure that they have the ability to pay back the government. Additionally, the project goals have to be inspected to make sure they are meeting the goals of Jones and her team who then monitor the project over the course of 30 years as most debt instruments have a 30-year maturity.
Jones emphasized that there are also no catches for tax payers. “We’re making an investment debt capital so the CDFI has to repay back the debt. They take the debt capital and make loans to small business, developers, and health care facilities as an investment up and down the string from our investment in CDFI who then in turn invests in these community projects,” Jones explained.
Additionally, Jones and her team are cognizant of waste, fraud and abuse issues are committed to minimizing their instances and impact. “The program is designed to make a commitment to the Community Development Financial Institutions when we approve them to be in the program,” Jones explained. She continued that a lot of work goes into front end and back end reviewing and monitoring to ensure programs are efficient as possible.
Similar to many other public sector programs it is easy to look at Jones’s work and ask why it is a necessary government program. Jones emphasized that economic development is critical for underserved communities and the private sector just hasn’t stepped in to provide this gap. However, as the government has stepped into this role of lone provider, the private sector has started to follow suit. Jones expects to see more private involvement in the future, enhancing the program and the lives of the underserved populations that it touches.
The 2016 SAMMIES may have come and gone but that doesn’t mean you have to stop celebrating our public servants. Check out the rest of the 2016 winners here and make sure the govies in your life know how much you appreciate them!