Genesis LA, Member Highlight

Los Angeles CDFI Prioritizes Coordinated Placemaking to Build Strong Communities

OFN member and 2024 OFN Conference cohost Genesis LA calls for building connection to physical neighborhoods and communities in an increasingly virtual world. 

Read time: 6 minutes

This fall, OFN will be in Los Angeles to host our 40th annual conference for CDFIs and other mission lenders and partners across the country. As we kick off 2024, we’re highlighting OFN member Genesis LA. From October 21-24, Genesis LA will join several other members in the Los Angeles region as a cohost of the conference, taking place at the JW Marriott L.A. Live.  

Learn more about Genesis LA from President and CEO Tom De Simone. 

What is a unique aspect about Genesis LA and your community that we should know about?

Tom De Simone, President and CEO of Genesis LA

Genesis LA’s service area appears right in our name. We live, breathe, and love Los Angeles. While our footprint is small as a local CDFI, our market is enormous. About 10 million people live in Los Angeles County – our county would rank around the 10th largest state, about the size of Michigan. 

Through our deep work in LA’s underinvested communities, we see that many community development interventions never get off the ground because community-based organizations lack a long-term partner willing to get their hands dirty. For this reason, we work intimately with our community partners to help them turn ideas into viable and financeable community development projects.  

An example of this type of collaboration started in 2016, when Genesis LA partnered with Inclusive Action, East LA Community Corporation, and Little Tokyo Service Center to form Community Owned Real Estate, or CORE. 

CORE is an anti-displacement strategy to preserve small businesses in gentrifying neighborhoods by acquiring commercial real estate, getting local tenants into commercial spaces, and converting tenants into owners. CORE aims to close the wealth gap by creating pathways for community ownership.  

A commercial building owned by the CORE project in Boyle Heights, LA (left) and Barney Santos (right), founder of BLVD MRKT, an indoor/outdoor food court hall financed by Genesis LA. Photos courtesy of Megan Jamerson/KCRW and Genesis LA.

A CDFI leader once noted that when the projects we need in the community do not exist, we, as CDFIs, need to go out there and help to create them. We subscribe to this belief, and this is why we invest so intensively in providing capacity-building services to our community partners so that we can bring about the needed interventions that would otherwise not surface without our support. 

Can you talk about a project you are most proud of and why?

In 2022, we launched a program called Block by Block. The program works in two neighborhoods where long-established and deeply rooted community organizations have successfully mobilized residents and set some vision for community planning. However, these organizations require support to turn their ideas into projects that change the built environment and address housing, goods, and service needs.  

Through Block by Block, Genesis LA surrounds these anchor organizations with trusted developer partners and commit our capital to early-stage investments that can lead to a pipeline of community projects capable of transforming the dynamics in the neighborhoods’ main street corridors. The idea is to better connect elements within the ecosystem — community organizing and vision, development expertise, and investment capital — into teams that will work together for the long term to achieve collective action around neighborhood development.

We hope to move past the norm of treating community development as a series of unrelated transactions into a coordinated placemaking campaign. 

Where do you hope to see the CDFI industry in 10 years?

CDFIs were created to serve the segments of the market that traditional lenders would not touch. By definition, this is a niche role. But, like all industries, CDFIs face pressures to scale up. There are obvious benefits of scale, including the ability to serve more people. However, a typical side effect of reaching scale is the need to create greater standardization in your business model as you grow. But standardization often sidelines those who fall outside the “standard box” — those who happen to be the borrowers CDFIs should be serving.  

I worry that our industry has become overly focused on scale, which has primarily served to concentrate more capital on fewer CDFIs and centralize power and decision-making far away from the places where CDFIs are investing. When CDFIs are distanced from the areas where they invest, they are less familiar with the social, political, cultural, and economic dynamics, which are essential to how they design loan products and intervene in local community development.  

I also worry that the pandemic has exacerbated this trend, with more CDFI practitioners (and community developers in general) working remotely and becoming untethered from the places they are serving. Much of our industry is about placemaking, and yet too many of us are increasingly disconnected from places — the offices where our teams once worked, the neighborhoods where our borrowers live, the site where our investments are creating tangible change.  

In 10 years, I hope the CDFI industry has reversed these recent tendencies that I believe undermine our founding principles.

More about Genesis LA 

For over two decades, Genesis LA has deployed flexible loan and investment products through their internally managed Genesis Community Investment Fund and other unique capital pools that are highly responsive to the needs of individual borrowers and the local market.

Genesis LA believes community development finance requires close collaboration between lenders and organizations in underserved communities. Therefore, they work closely with nonprofits, small businesses, women, and minority-owned enterprises by blending their financial products with capacity-building efforts so that they can effectively transform underinvested communities.  

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Save the Date for 2024 OFN Events! 

This year, OFN will host a variety of in-person and virtual events and training opportunities including four regional meetings, our virtual CONNECT+ ForumSmall Business Finance Forum, the 40th annual OFN Conference, and more than 35 trainings

Learn more about our latest 2024 event and training lineup and stay tuned for further details about registration, agendas, speakers, and more!  

Also, a reminder that the call for sessions for our 2024 CONNECT+ Forum and Small Business Finance Forum is currently open. Submit a session proposal by January 5 to help shape these valuable events for the CDFI industry! 

Are you a CDFI interested in joining OFN’s membership? Learn more about the benefits of joining our network of over 400 members and apply today!

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