ASI FCU Affiliate Kicks-off Capital Campaign to Revitalize New Orleans’ Upper Ninth Ward
Federation Commits $100,000 in Matching Funds
(July 24, 2006 – New York, NY) A bold new initiative to jump-start the revitalization of the Upper Ninth Ward of New Orleans has won a challenge grant from the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions (the Federation).
The Federation announced that it will grant up to $100,000 to ASI Federal Credit Union and its non-profit affiliate, A Shared Initiative, Inc. (ASII). The grant will come from the Federation’s Community Development Relief and Rebuilding Fund, established with major contributions from the National Credit Union Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jewish Funds for Justice, and individual contributions from the CDCU movement.
The grant to ASI FCU and ASII will go towards the purchase and rehabilitation of a building that will serve as a community center for the residents of the St. Claude community, in New Orleans’ Upper Ninth Ward. The Federation will make $50,000 available to the nonprofit/credit union collaboration immediately and the remaining $50,000 will be granted as the final portion of the $250,000 goal.
For many Americans, Hurricane Katrina exposed a raw nerve of persistent poverty long ignored by the mainstream media and conventional financial institutions. But ASI FCU was all too familiar with the growing gap between rich and poor; before the hurricane, more than ten thousand ASI member households earned less than $15,000 a year in combined family income.
ASI FCU is a low-income designated, community development credit union, certified by the United States Treasury Department as a community development financial institution (CDFI). The credit union, chartered in 1961, serves 74,000 members today, a decrease from the 90,000 it served just before the storm. More than 60% of their members live below the poverty line. Katrina displaced both the credit union and its members, many of whom still remain without homes or livelihoods.
In 2005 ASI FCU launched A Shared Initiative, Inc., a non-profit community development corporation. ASII is designed to expand the credit union’s anti-poverty programs and help shape the redevelopment of blighted communities in New Orleans by providing affordable homeownership opportunities for low-income people.
Shortly before Hurricane Katrina, ASI FCU planned to open a branch in the Ninth Ward. The credit union was ready to begin construction of the new branch when disaster struck.
“We knew that there was such incredible need within the Ninth Ward,” said the credit union’s CEO Audrey Cerise. “Residents in that community simply had no access to affordable financial services. Had our branch opened it would have been the only financial institution located in the entire Ninth Ward.”
Katrina pounded New Orleans without mercy, and unleashed special fury on the Ninth Ward. As the levies failed, many of the 4,000 homes in the neighborhood were flattened by floodwaters or simply swept off their foundations. With virtually 100% of the housing damaged or destroyed, ASII started to purchase homes that could be rehabilitated and sold to low-income homebuyers at deep discounts.
ASII made much progress in the past year, but recognized that housing alone would not reestablish the community. As a result, they identified a large warehouse on a major thoroughfare of the Upper Ninth Ward that could be converted into a thriving community center.
ASII is currently in the process of raising funds to purchase the $250,000 property and expect renovation costs for the project to run an additional $250,000, but the credit union is taking this one step at a time.
“At the moment, our biggest priority is securing the property,” said Cerise. “There has been a lot of real-estate speculation in the neighborhood by investors looking for bargains, and we see this facility and its prime location as ideal for a community center.”
The proposed community center would attract many other resources, making the community a vibrant and thriving place to live for families and children. Cerise hopes the community center will spark a wider revitalization of the community.
Councilman Oliver Thomas, President of the New Orleans City Council, has been instrumental in linking the nonprofit and credit union staff with other area stakeholders, nonprofits, and vital service providers who are also interested in setting up shop within the proposed community center.
“The Federation established the Community Development Relief and Rebuilding Fund shortly after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita to help low-income credit unions and their members get back on their feet,” said the Federation’s Executive Director, Cliff Rosenthal. “The clearest way to do this is to help ASI FCU and ASII to revitalize the St. Claude community.”
Jeff Wells, chairperson of the Federation’s Capitalization Committee which approved the Fund award, agreed.
“We were especially impressed by the comprehensive, multi-service vision ASII developed, including space for a credit union, for community nonprofits, for recreation, an after-school program, and even a small café and deli to teach disadvantaged teens about entrepreneurship,” said Wells. “It’s an exciting vision, and one which the credit union will play a highly visible role.”
Cerise appreciates the help. “This project needs the collaboration of many partners, great and small,” said Cerise. “We are forever grateful for the support lent to us by the Federation, an organization that has taught us what community development really means.” She added, “It is our hope that the matched grant funding opportunity will inspire other organizations to help us rebuild this once vital community.”
Last month the Federation announced that its 33rd Annual Meeting and 7th Faith-based Credit Union Conference, originally scheduled to take place next year in Dallas, would instead be held in New Orleans.
“Our staff made several trips to New Orleans over the past year,” said Rosenthal. “We saw an outpouring of gratitude for our business by the people that continue to live and work in the city.”
Based on these visits, the Federation’s Board of Directors decided to move next year’s meetings to New Orleans as a show of solidarity in the true spirit of people helping people.
“We hope our conferences next year will draw even more representatives from the credit union movement than ever before,” said Rosenthal. “This is an opportunity to stimulate the local economy and shine a spotlight on the tremendous work being done by credit unions.”
ASI Federal Credit Union (www.asifcu.org) was chartered in 1961 to serve working class members in New Orleans and surrounding areas of the city. The credit union exists as a low-income designated Community Development Financial Institution. ASI’s mission is to serve the underserved, to promote economic empowerment, and to provide affordable financial products and services to people with little or no credit. Over 60% of ASI’s 87,000 members fall below the poverty level. ASI FCU is one of the largest CDCUs in the country and is a member of the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions.