CDFI Coalitions: Stronger Together in the Fight for Economic Opportunity
Local, state, and regional CDFI coalitions organize to advance equitable financing
In his new book, “Poverty, by America,” author Matthew Desmond of “Evicted” fame explores why more than 50 years of anti-poverty measures have done little to reduce poverty in the U.S. The reason American poverty persists, Desmond says, is because so many of us benefit from it. The book and a subsequent feature in The New York Times Magazine have attracted a lot of attention from CDFI leaders and other economic justice advocates.
Desmond recently spoke at the New York State CDFI Coalition’s annual conference, where he challenged attendees to become “poverty abolitionists.”
“Desmond’s remarks were so inspiring,” said Jennifer Vasiloff, OFN’s chief external affairs officer, who presented at the event on two topics, CDFI Fund certification reform and green financing. “The New York State CDFI Coalition has been operating longer than any other state coalition and serves as an informal advisor to CDFI leaders seeking to convene similar efforts. What a treat it was to spend time with these CDFI leaders and hear such a powerful call to action from a Pulitzer Prize winning author.”
Power in Partnership
No longer the best-kept secret in the financial sector, CDFIs are a recognizable brand that stands for economic justice. Given the industry’s proven track record of investing in low-income, low-wealth communities, policymakers are increasingly turning to CDFIs as a solution for systemic problems, including persistent and pervasive poverty.
To leverage this influence, a growing number of CDFIs are forming statewide coalitions to learn, exchange information, and strengthen state-level advocacy efforts. Along with the New York coalition, South Carolina Community Capital and Pennsylvania CDFI Network are among the oldest of these industry groups. Michigan’s is one of the newest.
The Ohio CDFI Network started in 2018 to build CDFI capacity and capital in a state where CDFIs serve 90% of the communities. Formed in 2019, the California Coalition for Community Investment led the effort to establish the state’s first-ever CDFI Fund, bringing $50 million for California CDFIs to invest in various community needs.
In 2021, the Virginia General Assembly passed a $10 million budget amendment to support Virginia-based CDFIs. In response several of the state’s CDFIs formed the Virginia CDFI Coalition. The coalition has since successfully advocated for codifying and recapitalizing the VA CDFI Fund.
In 2020 Native CDFIs spanning North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming established The Mountain | Plains Regional Native CDFI Coalition. Initially convened as a triage response to the pandemic, this regional coalition continues to work to access funding for Native communities. Last fall, the coalition celebrated a big win when it received $45 million grant from the federal Economic Development Administration’s Build Back Better Regional Challenge.
CDFI blocs are also popping up locally, with CDFIs forming coalitions in cities like Detroit, Kansas City, Newark, St. Louis, and Los Angeles.
“OFN champions broad-based efforts, like the formation of coalitions, to strengthen CDFIs,” said Vasiloff. “Aligned in our efforts to grow the CDFI field, OFN and more localized CDFI groups are spreading the word that CDFIs are the partners policymakers at all levels need to help communities thrive.”
“Poverty reduces people born for better things,” Desmond writes in his new book. CDFIs fight poverty with fair, equitable financial products and services, investing in people and communities considered too risky or unprofitable by many mainstream institutions.
When CDFIs join forces with each other or other mission-minded organizations, like the Community Builders of Color Coalition with its environmental justice focus, we can make even greater impact against economic inequities that have stifled millions of Americans for generations.
“OFN is excited to see more coalitions emerge,” Vasiloff said. “Working together, we are stronger.”
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