Fannie Mae taps CDCB: Housing group will use funds to expand reach - Brownsville Herald: Local News

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Fannie Mae taps CDCB: Housing group will use funds to expand reach

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Posted: Wednesday, January 22, 2020 9:30 pm

With its share of $10 million in contract award funds from Fannie Mae’s Sustainable Communities Innovation Challenge program, the Community Development Corporation of Brownsville proposes to substantially expand its reach to help working families achieve financial stability.

CDCB was among 10 finalists, chosen from more than 200 applicants, invited to Washington, D.C., to pitch their proposals to Fannie Mae representatives in October. CDCB learned last month that it was among five applicants nationwide selected for contract awards through the program.

CDCB is a private, nonprofit community housing development organization that also offers free counseling to help families become financially stable, sometimes through home ownership.

Zoraima Diaz-Pineda, CDCB’s financial security manager, traveled to Washington with CDCB Executive Director Nick Mitchell-Bennett to make the pitch, and the competition they faced was fierce, she said.

“I just can’t say enough about the type of projects that were pitched that day,” Diaz-Pineda said. “They were all pretty amazing, very innovative, with a large impact on the communities that they were proposing to serve.”

Diaz-Pineda penned CDCB’s winning application of 50 single-spaced pages. By the terms of the contract award, she can’t disclose what portion of the $10 million CDCB will receive, but was happy to discuss what the money will be used for.

CDCB’s proposal involves expanding its current financial security programs and making them “place based.” It means free services like housing counseling, financial coaching and free tax-preparation will be offered not only at the organization’s downtown headquarters, they’ll also be available at certain large “anchor employers,” she said.

Over the next two weeks CDCB will be in negotiations with three such employers that have already agreed, leading ideally to signed memorandums of understanding, Diaz-Pineda said.

“Once we have the MOUs signed, then I think we’ll be on site,” she said, adding that more employers likely will be added.

CDCB’s proposal also involves creating a way to make confusing financial concepts — debt-to-income ratio and liquid-asset poverty for instance — easier for clients to understand by putting them in terms of health, something they already understand, Diaz-Pineda said.

“So we’re talking about your financial pulse,” she said. “We’re talking about your financial cholesterol level. We’re talking about your financial immune system. And in doing so, we’re trying to take financial concepts and use a language that is applicable to your daily lived experience.”

Another part of the proposal is about creating a “client-facing platform” app that allows clients to check on their progress toward financial stability in real time based on an agreed-to financial plan, as opposed to having to wait to talk to a CDCB counselor in person or on the phone to get the same information, Diaz-Pineda said.

While most clients don’t have a computer, they almost always have a smart phone or a family member who has one, she said.

“We’re trying to ... increase engagement and retention by providing a service that’s accessible at any point in time in any sphere,” Diaz-Pineda said. “We’re not the first to have an idea like this, but we’re trying to use it intentionally in a way that users can connect and really have a meaningful experience.”

Finally, CDCB plans to put all of the above into tool-kit form that can be used by other nonprofits serving a similar client base, she said.

CDCB’s financial security program last fiscal year served more than 4,000 clients in one-on-one housing counseling, free tax preparation and financial empowerment workshops, including 722 first-time clients on the financial counseling and coaching side alone, Diaz-Pineda said.

Ultimately, the Fannie Mae grant will help CDCB extend its reach, attracting more clients and helping more families down the road to financial stability, Diaz-Pineda said. It’s all aimed at lifting Brownsville out of persistent poverty, which requires improving families’ wealth accumulation and making it so a family’s wealth transfers from one generation to the next, she said.

“One of the multiple goals as an organization is for us to really embed this sense of the possibility of reaching a state of financial health for families,” Diaz-Pineda said. “This is not just about so we can get you to buy a house.”

sclark@brownsvilleherald.com

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