Tom De Simone came right out of graduate school on the East Coast with an urban planning degree, and dove right into the wonderful world of housing policy on the West Coast. He first worked for the Deputy Mayor’s office in Los Angeles and then in the City’s Housing Department. He did research and analysis on pretty much … everything: zoning, marketing, downtown housing, economic development, homelessness, housing and development funds, land trust models and outreach to lending institutions. After four years, he joined Genesis LA as project manager, becoming VP of Real Estate, and since 2013, President and CEO.
Genesis LA is a community investment loan fund, a CDFI. They direct loans and investments from their fund, which is capitalized at about 60 million. They finance acquisitions, predevelopment, construction, and community and economic development projects. Their focus is on nonprofits, small businesses, and women and minority owned enterprises, and they primarily work in underserved communities. Founded in 1998 out of Mayor Richard Riordan’s office, Genesis LA works in the heart of Los Angeles County, but they have funded projects as far out as San Bernadino, Long Beach and San Fernando. Projects include LA Prep (Mott Smith) and Star Apartments (Skid Row Housing Trust), My Home Mi Casa (affordable housing) and the Sheenway School (charter school). Drawn to small, unused lots of land that often go untouched by large developers, Tom’s organization likes innovative housing projects which can transform underused spaces.
Read the podcast transcript here
Eve Picker: [00:00:06] Hi there. Thanks for joining me on Rethink Real Estate. For Good. I’m Eve Picker and I’m on a mission to make real estate work for everyone. I love real estate. Real estate makes places good or bad, rich or poor, beautiful or not. In this show, I’m interviewing the disruptors, those creative thinkers and doers that are shrugging off the status quo, in order to build better for everyone. If you haven’t already, check out all of my podcasts at our website RethinkRealEstateForGood.co, or you can find them at your favorite podcast station. You’ll find lots worth listening to, I’m sure.
Eve: [00:01:00] Tom DeSimone is totally into community finance. He runs an $80 million community loan fund called Genesis LA. It’s a community development financial institution which looks and feels like a bank because they make loans, but with special superpowers reserved for triple bottom line projects and customers. Community Development Financial Institutions emerged in the 1990s specifically to build capacity and projects in places that banks don’t want to be. So CDFIs like Genesis LA filled that niche, investing in economic development, community services, housing and providing working capital for small businesses. Genesis LA boasts a lot of impact. For a start, 90 percent of their investments are made in distressed census tracts. Sixty five percent of borrowers are women and/or minority businesses. Fifty five percent of projects promote environmental and community sustainability. So, if you’ve always wanted to understand community finance, then listen in.
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Eve: [00:02:41] Hi, Tom, I’m really excited to have you on my show today.
Tom De Simone: [00:02:45] Thank you, glad to be here.
Eve: [00:02:47] You run a CDFI, a Community Development Financial Institution, and what are CDFIs?
Tom: [00:02:55] Yeah, good question. Many would say CDFIs were the original social impact investors. We evolved out of the federal government in a formal way. But even before that, CDFIs were the venue that folks who wanted to change the systems of capital really got together. Activists, civil rights folks, jaded bankers, and they created a variety of different funds. LISC is a popular CDFI folks might have heard of, Enterprise. So some of these predated the formalization of CDFIs, which really happened under the Bill Clinton administration, where the U.S. Treasury Department created the CDFI fund. And what that did was sort of give a stamp of approval to these funds that they had accountability; they were actually creating social impact in lower income communities across the country. And it also created government subsidies to them to help put equity into these funds so that they could then leverage debt. And so that’s what we do as CDFIs. There’s over a thousand CDFIs across the country. The majority of us are unregulated loan funds, so we have social accountability, regulatory accountability to the government but we don’t have the same banking rules so we can become much more flexible with things like loan to value for a loan, or the underwriting of a borrower, or debt service coverage, or a lot of these different terms that you hear bankers, you just can’t provide a loan. And we as CDFIs can be just much more flexible. And so we do that by aggregating grants from the government, debt from banks, grants and other sorts of social loans from foundations, and just a variety of different places. And we aggregate all that capital on our own balance sheets, and we re-lend it out through a fund model. And CDFIs do everything from consumer lending to home mortgages to small business to real estate. It really runs the gamut across the country, both small and large.
Eve: [00:05:00] Yeah, I was going to ask, how are they different from banks? I’m interested to hear it’s really a loan to value, that banks are really constrained about what they can do and you are not.
Tom: [00:05:09] Yeah. And you know, many of our borrowers, for example, will have years with losses, especially non-profits. You know, one year they make a surplus, the next year they have a deficit, and a lot of banks can’t lend to a borrower who in the last three years has had losses in any year. And so, we can really just look bigger picture at a lot of these folks and help drive capital to the kinds of unbanked borrowers out there.
Eve: [00:05:34] So the original impact bank, basically.
Tom: [00:05:37] Mm hmm. We’d like to think that.
Eve: [00:05:40] Okay! So, they’ve been around now for almost 30 years. Has anything changed during that time?
Tom: [00:05:46] Yeah. The field has grown tremendously in that time, and probably even more so in just the last 10. CDFIs have become much more recognized. So we’ve become an important partner with banks in their Community Reinvestment Act or CRA requirements, which is a great endorsement from traditional capital sources that they are willing to capitalize CDFIs. So that’s really changed. The federal government’s become a consistent investor through grants. Again, if you were thinking similar to a bank, you know you have investors, shareholders who put equity into the bank. That’s what the government is doing to us. We don’t have shareholders, so the government is giving grants that we can then leverage debt with and blend it together to provide capital. So, the government’s become much more of a consistent and ongoing partner in that work. And then many more CDFIs have sprouted up. You know it’s hundreds over the past few years that have really been getting into those micro markets that have been underserved for decades.
Eve: [00:06:47] So because of the grant influx, you can blend that with other more expensive funds and lend it out at more reasonable rate for higher risk of project.
Tom: [00:06:55] Exactly. And we buffer losses, right? The grant dollars will experience the loss before the debtors will, and so they’re willing to invest.
Eve: [00:07:04] You know, I live in Pittsburgh, and I learnt that community development corporations, I think, had their start here, and they were probably the precursor for CDFIs that whole activist grassroot movement in the 60s and 70s, right?
Tom: [00:07:18] Yeah. Yeah, well, in many ways, you know, CDCs, Community Development Corporations, where the developers, the boots on the ground trying to do things, and they’re our borrowers. That’s most of our borrowers are CDCs. And so, you know, I think what was missing from that formula was, who will finance them outside of local government, federal government grantors. And that’s where the CDFIs have come along to blend traditional finance with the kinds of things CDCs are doing on the ground,
Eve: [00:07:46] So they really grew out of the original hipsters. I suppose that’s the way to look at it. Okay, so you run Genesis LA, a CDFI, and how big is Genesis LA and where are you located?
Tom: [00:07:58] Yeah, we’re in Los Angeles. We serve L.A. County, which is just one county, but would be the 10th or 11th largest state in the country if it were its own state. So it’s a huge place, 10 million people here, and we serve many low income communities here in L.A. We do that with direct loans we make. We have about an $80- $90-million balance sheet, which we make loans off of, to different community development projects. And we also participate in the New Markets tax credit program, which is sort of an incentive program that the federal government, new markets allocation to groups like us, we compete for that annually, and it provides about a 25 to 30 percent subsidy to development projects. So, we have to leverage the rest with other types of leveraged finance.
Eve: [00:08:45] That’s typically what’s needed in underserved neighborhoods that are not a hot market, right? In Pittsburgh it always used to be 40 percent. It just is pretty standard no matter where you are, there’s this financing gap.
Tom: [00:08:56] That’s exactly right. And so, we use that as well. And we’ve had almost $400 million of those resources over the years that we’ve deployed.
Eve: [00:09:04] Yeah, that’s interesting. Tell me a little bit about how businesses find you and what they look like.
Tom: [00:09:09] Yeah. Really, it’s a lot of word of mouth. We don’t advertise. We don’t have billboards around town. We really try to serve a niche in the market. We’ve really said, what are larger CDFIs not able to do? Because maybe these projects are to nuance, these borrowers are too small, they’re inexperienced. And so what are the things sort of falling through the cracks, not just of traditional finance banking, but also other CDFIs that have a larger national footprint? And so we’ve tried to gather those crumbs that fall through those cracks here in Los Angeles and really try to provide almost a boutique service to them. So, we get a lot of word of mouth referrals. Because of that, people realize that we’re a place to go when sort of no one else will lend to you. And part of how we get really comfortable with that is we provide a lot of what we call capacity building services with our borrowers. So most of our borrowers are nonprofits. Many of them, though not all of those nonprofits are first-time developers or they’re just trying to build a facility for their operations, trying to do something different, maybe create housing differently than we’ve done it before. And so, we work really closely with them to help structure their budgets, their performers, raise other capital with them, bring in other technical advisors on the real estate side, you know, contractors, architects, engineers, that sort of stuff. And so, we’re really trying to help resource not just capital, but some of the other components that are critical to making a development happen. And so after you go through a process like that with many of these borrowers, you know them so intimately and you’ve been a part of bolstering the viability of their project, that it’s a huge risk mitigator for us to then be able to deploy capital. And so, you know, that kind of experience that our borrowers go through often becomes a really great referral source, basically for others who are in a similar position, and we get a lot of our borrowers that way through just friendly networks.
Eve: [00:11:10] Yeah, it doesn’t sound dissimilar to what we do at Small Change because, you know, it’s that very large group of people who are working on innovative projects that banks can’t really appraise, or first of their kind, or unfortunately, still, if they don’t look like the rest of the development world, they may get turned down. So, yeah, those are really an enormous number of people that are left out of the system. It’s actually a number I’ve been trying to get at. If you have any ideas, I’d love to know, you know, how many people are left out of the system, this sort of very homogeneous white real estate industry?
Tom: [00:11:45] Yeah, that’s exactly right.
Eve: [00:11:47] That really caters towards people making money on buildings that are commodities. It’s not about making better place. It’s really interesting. Tell us about some of your favorite projects.
Tom: [00:11:59] Yeah, we’ve got a lot. I know you’ve spoken with Mott Smith on one of your other podcasts.
Eve: [00:12:05] Oh yeah, that sounded like a fabulous project. That’s amped kitchens, right?
[00:12:09] That’s right.
[00:12:10] That sounded like a brain damage sort of project.
Tom: [00:12:13] Mott’s up for the brain damage. He’s hardened that brain over the years. Yeah, I mean, it’s a, it’s just one example. But you know, this is a borrower that didn’t have a ton of liquidity, had a big project with a big budget and was leasing to small kitchens.
Eve: [00:12:29] And a really brand new idea, right? That wasn’t really a proven concept. So like for our listeners, if they haven’t listened to the Amped Kitchen podcast, it’s really kind of co-working for kitchens, right?
Tom: [00:12:42] That’s exactly right, yeah. So, it made tons of sense, but you know, he needed to close financing with no leases because these are little small businesses that are not going to sign a lease for 18, 24 months down the road. They can’t do that. So you just take that. Forget all the other constraints of lending to a project like this. No bank is going to lend to a project with zero lease-up. And then certainly something that has no comparables to look at, either. So those are the kinds of things that come our way. We did another project a couple of years ago. It’s now open, really younger Hispanic guy in the city of Montebello, which is an inner ring suburb here in Los Angeles. He was an entrepreneur. He’d done a lot of food, entrepreneurialism with start-ups and taco trucks and carts and things like that, and he wanted to create a sort of an outdoor food hall that would help revitalize the main street of Montebello. Same story, you know, first project, very little liquidity, scrapping up some dollars with friends and family, that sort of a thing. And so we work with him for over a year and helped him to get this built. It started right before the pandemic, and then he had to suffer through the pandemic. But he’s up and going and fully leased, and he’s got eight effectively start-up or newer, all minority-owned food businesses in this food hall. So, you know, the kind of borrower really struggles because they don’t have the balance sheet, they don’t have the track record and again, they’re leasing to non-credit, what banks would say non-credit tenants. And so those are all the sorts of things that we just find ways to get comfortable with it.
Eve: [00:14:16] It sounds a lot, it sounds pretty fun. And these are the things that really make a difference to those neighborhoods, which is the most gratifying thing, right?
Tom: [00:14:24] Yes, absolutely.
Eve: [00:14:26] Ok, so what’s your background? How did you get here? And did you imagine you would be here? Was this your goal in life?
Tom: [00:14:34] Yeah, I thought I wanted to be a developer. I think I might have more fun on this side now. But I started working in government after college. I worked in the mayor’s office here in Los Angeles, and then I did a year at the Housing Department. And during those two years, I realized, gosh, all of these projects and these social goals we’re trying to achieve on the government side still all depend on financing, and I got to go figure out how that works. And so I went back to graduate school and studied regional planning with a focus on real estate, and came out of graduate school, thought I wanted to go work for an affordable housing developer, but had the opportunity to come to Genesis LA as sort of a loan officer role. And it’s just been a blast because the diversity of things that I’ve been able to be exposed to has been so much broader than just, you know, doing affordable housing, which is brain damage in and of itself. But you know, being able to do commercial and nonprofit and some operating businesses and affordable housing has just been such a great laboratory for me. It just personally, to have satisfaction, but also to unwrap some of these challenges as an organization at Genesis and really try to make capital flow better to these sorts of underserved borrowers.
Eve: [00:15:56] I have to say this, from the outside it feels like the banking system is broken. If you have to create a completely different one to make this happen. Like, does anyone talk about that, like, are there moves to make banking friendlier to projects like this?
Tom: [00:16:18] Yeah, it’s a great question. There’s a lot of criticism in our field of banks, and interestingly enough, there’s criticism outside of our sector from people who feel some CDFIs at least have become too much like banks. I think it’s a factor of scale, to be honest. I think if you think about scale, the bigger the scale something gets generally, the more standardized it has to become. You’re doing things at volume, it’s sort of press and repeat. And I don’t want to, you know, make little the nuance to it but that’s sort of scale, right? Like you think of the mortgage market. It’s sort of you fit in the parameters of Fannie and Freddie, and you can sell the loan to the secondary market. So it’s a very, it’s a sort of a narrow box. And I think that’s, that defines the lending sector and certainly banks. And to me, what we have to do on our side, as CDFIs and as a finance industry, is think of it as a holistic system and have the deployment of capital happening at a variety of scales. So, there’s the things that fit in the big box. I think we want those systems so we can move as much capital to as many people as we can, but not forget those folks who don’t fit within that box because that’s where the work of CDFIs have really been set up, is to make sure that we can service those folks that just don’t fit in the standard process. And we can’t lose sight of that as we as CDFIs scale up ourselves.
Eve: [00:17:51] Yeah, no, I think that’s right. So then given that this exists, how does community capital look today, compared to 25 or 30 years ago? Does it look wildly different? Is there more happening? Like, how, what sort of impact has this had?
Tom: [00:18:06] Yeah, I think there’s a ton more CDFI capital going out there. I don’t remember the numbers offhand, but billions and billions are moving every year in the CDFI sector. It’s tremendous. Many CDFIs now are bigger than a lot of your community banks. You know, 500 million, a billion-dollar balance sheets, some of them. But I think you know, what’s a little bit lost in that is not every problem can be solved with debt. In fact, many problems can’t be solved with debt. Unfortunately, there’s still a lot of disadvantage in the United States, and people don’t have the income to pay the kinds of rents, whether it’s a resident in an apartment building or a small business, and it does take subsidy or patient money, whatever you want to call it, and I think that’s where the CDFI system just, it can only go so far. We really do need to come up with other programs, whether that’s government subsidy or philanthropy, to kind of close some of those gaps. Those gaps exist because there’s inequality in this country and, you know, capital seeking a return is just not going to solve all of those problems.
Eve: [00:19:14] Do you think we’re there yet? Like very patient capital, small returns?
Tom: [00:19:22] You know, in some ways, we’re getting there in other ways. I don’t think so. I think more people have opened up their investments to smaller returns and sort of social impact investing. I think one of the problems is most of that money is short term. You know, they kind of want to get repaid quick and where deals become not viable.
Eve: [00:19:43] This is really all about patience.
Tom: [00:19:45] It is patience. You need that low return or no return for the long run, right? You can borrow cheap money for construction, but who’s going to be your permanent lender on that apartment building that can only support half the debt that it cost to build it? Where do you get that other half of the capital? And that’s where I don’t think social impact investing has has been willing to take that position, and that’s where government or somebody else really has to step in.
Eve: [00:20:13] Interesting. So that’s really the missing piece. Is anyone thinking about it, building it, addressing it?
Tom: [00:20:19] Yeah, that’s a good question. Not from the traditional capital markets. You know, there’s talk, you know, in Washington and in places like that about more government roles for some of this. But I have not seen it from kind of the funds and the investor markets. You know, I see a lot of these tech companies have opened up, you know, the Googles, the Apples, but even they want to be the last dollar in. They want to revolve the money multiple times. So again, it’s a short-term cycle that they’re trying to revolve their money in, and that’s not really where the gap is. The gap is on the long-term patient piece. That’s what’s missing. And I think as the federal government sort of retreated from the sixties and seventies to be a little less of an investor in these kinds of things, it’s made it more challenging to make these kinds of projects work.
Eve: [00:21:11] Yeah. I want to go back to redlining, which is supposed to have been eradicated. What’s your experience with that in L.A. and the people you serve? Are they turned down often by banks for no other reason than the way they look or where they live?
Tom: [00:21:29] Yes, it’s been a few years since I had this experience, but we were trying to refinance a loan in South Los Angeles, which is an underserved community, minority community and an interesting story to this very point. We were talking to a bank. They’d looked at the financials. They looked at the business model. They loved it and they wanted to go to the next level. And I got a call that their supervisor went out and drove past the site and decided it wasn’t the right fit for them, which was absolute code for redlining, or not even so coded. So, I definitely think it exists. This was a few years back now, but these kinds of patterns very much do exist and continue to be barriers to getting traditional capital into the neighborhoods.
Eve: [00:22:16] Very depressing, I don’t know how you change that unless a whole generation of people dies.
Tom: [00:22:23] Yeah, it is entrenched.
Eve: [00:22:24] We’re working with a developer right now, a white developer who’s helping provide technical support to black men who are trying to buy a building and renovate it. And it’s really a pretty fabulous project, and they’re pretty fabulous people. And he said they went to several banks and put a whole portfolio together, including photographs of these two men, and were turned down and were turned down and were turned down. So, they submitted it without photos, and that’s when they got interest. And, you know, I even wonder, I don’t know if people are doing it purposefully anymore. I think it’s just; I don’t even know what it is. I don’t know what to say about it, but I hear stories like that all the time. And it’s
Tom: [00:23:07] Discouraging, very.
Eve: [00:23:07] Yeah, very discouraging. So, if a developer has access to your sort of capital, which is really hard to assemble by the sounds of it, should they have some sort of reciprocal responsibilities?
Tom: [00:23:21] Yes, that is a condition of a lot of our financing. So, we’re looking to have our borrowers support small businesses or minority businesses or to rent more affordable housing or to populate their buildings with some nonprofit that’s providing services.
Eve: [00:23:39] So there is an impact goal, it’s not just about, you know, building a building in a place where no one’s built it before, it’s about building a building with a purpose.
Tom: [00:23:48] Absolutely. We basically say we need to see how our investment is supporting some low-income end user. Are they a consumer, are they a resident, are they a recipient of some services? But we need to see how you’re interacting with low-income people, not just that you’re in their neighborhood and ignoring them. You have to be improving their life. Otherwise, we’re not the right fit.
Eve: [00:24:10] And how do you prove that? What proof do they give you? What evidence?
Tom: [00:24:14] Yeah. You know, some of it is, have they done stuff like this before that we can look at? We look at projections and kind of what they’re planning to do, and then we do a lot of follow up after the project is done. We do annual or semi-annual reporting. We go out to the sites. As a local investor we can get to these projects very easily. We have them report on their sort of impacts. We talk to other people who might know them, who can sort of speak to the impact that they’re having. So there’s a lot of oversight that goes way beyond the checking their covenants and their financial ratios.
Eve: [00:24:47] Right, right, right. So this is really intense work, Tom, for small loans.
Tom: [00:24:52] Yes, it is.
Eve: [00:24:53] Do you limit how small a loan will be because of this? Or do you look at all comers, no matter the size?
Tom: [00:25:00] Yeah, we don’t do microloans as they call it, which is sort of 50,000 and less, but we have some loans that are around the hundred, two hundred thousand dollars.
Eve: [00:25:09] That’s really small.
Tom: [00:25:10] It is small, but we also go up to, I think, six million is our loan limit now from our CDFI loan fund. So, it’s a balance for us. You know, I think a lot of investors look at the return on every single investment. Is it worth my time to do this one deal? And we look at it as a portfolio, we realize that we might make some big loans that turn a nice interest payoff to us and we might do some small loans that, if we were really tracking our time on it, we’re probably losing money. But we look at it as an ecosystem, a portfolio approach. And that lets us, what it actually pays dividends both socially and economically to us is that a lot of those smaller things we’re investing in are giving us information and ideas that can be replicated or scaled up later. And they’re the seeds for something new and that can become a whole new product line or a business line for us to make the kinds of investment returns we need to stay afloat.
Eve: [00:26:11] Interesting. I want to ask one other question about this. So, you provide debt. How much equity do you require of these businesses?
Tom: [00:26:21] It varies. We have lent unsecured loans, for example, to a lot of affordable housing developers. They don’t own the land. Maybe they’re going to do a ground lease. So, we have given them a couple million dollars unsecured. It’s really based on their reputation. So, they have no equity, we’re their equity at that point, at least. We’ve done construction and permanent loans where our borrowers have had, you know, five or 10 percent equity in because they just don’t have enough capital. So we try to be flexible.
Eve: [00:26:52] Well, that’s wildly different than banks, right?
Tom: [00:26:56] Very much so.
Eve: [00:26:57] Which are really at 35 percent, which makes it almost impossible for someone who’s trying to build a business for themselves in real estate for the first time to even find a bank to talk to.
Tom: [00:27:09] That’s exactly right. Our standard policy is 85 percent loan to value, but we make exceptions, we really do. And we work with folks on how to bridge that gap if everything else is checking out.
Eve: [00:27:22] So I’m going to ask you one more question because we met before this virtually, sort of, do you think that investment crowdfunding can play a role in building community capital?
Tom: [00:27:34] I do.
Eve: [00:27:35] And I ask you this question because we raised money for a project that I believe Genesis LA loaned the funds for. And actually, often banks we work with don’t like the idea of crowdfunding. So I’m wondering if CDFIs on the whole are a little more entrepreneurial? See the possibilities?
Tom: [00:27:58] Yes, we do. We absolutely do. We were involved in an eight-unit bungalow court that Small Change raised equity of $100,000. It was a great pairing, I think, because it helped bring the traditional equity capital into these projects and sort of de-risks the loan for us. We don’t have to be thinking of that going to above that policy limit. And it really helps make deals look more traditional, but through the grassroots, and I think it’s a tremendous opportunity going forward.
Eve: [00:28:28] And what I love for that project on our side is the speed with which they raised the money because people really, they want to help. And it was it’s a little, it’s a project for formerly homeless people and people invested small amounts quickly. And so, you know, there’s this crowd of people out that want to participate, which is pretty fabulous, too. I think.
Tom: [00:28:51] It is.
Eve: [00:28:52] Big picture question. So, there’s this enormous disparity between the wealthy, the haves and the have nots, not only in what they own, but in how they go about banking and building a business. How do you think we need to think about our cities and neighborhoods and these types of business to make our country more equitable for everyone?
Tom: [00:29:17] Yeah, it’s a weighty question. I think we have a lot of soul-searching to do about the inequality that we still face. And really, what kind of investment is needed to give every person and every neighborhood in America the right opportunity to move forward. I have a board member who sort of said this once and I’ll paraphrase, but you really, you can’t have a meritocracy if people can’t have an education, have health care and have a roof over their head. And I think we can’t expect that some investment programs or a loan guarantee program or something of that sort is going to solve these issues if we haven’t taken care of those baseline things in communities. And I’m not saying that the government has to pay for all that sort of stuff, but I think we have to look at this as a public and a private partnership to get those baseline conditions sorted out so that, you know, lending and investing can work and can work more equitably than it does. But we have a deficit on just the basic conditions for a segment of our population and our geography in this country that we’ve never really, I think, taken a serious effort to resolve.
Eve: [00:30:41] No, and I think it’s becoming more and more visible and obvious every day. As you were describing the CDFI system, I’m thinking, well, it’s two different systems for two different groups of people in one country, because you know, the one system, the big one, the banking system just doesn’t service everyone for whatever reason, so that’s a little disturbing. Ok, final question, what’s next for you?
Tom: [00:31:13] We are getting more programmatic. We’re trying, to some of the points that you just mentioned, we’re trying to get on the front end of some of these challenges and not just be a lender who’s investing in some good ideas that come our way, but how do we start to change some of these systems? How do we close the the homeownership gap in this country, which is a major wealth generator for those who can get in, for example? How do we reform some of the ways we go about building affordable housing? It’s sort of a singular system now, it’s terribly inefficient, it’s very expensive, and it leaves a lot of good ideas on the sidelines. So, we’re really trying to figure out how can we get in to some of these things much earlier, not just as a traditional lender, but as sort of a someone at the development table with our partners. There’s another peer CDFI leader who once said something along these lines, and I love it because we basically are trying to do the same thing, which is, when the kinds of projects we want to see don’t exist, sometimes we just have to go out there even as CDFIs and create them ourselves. And so, we really see our role increasingly being, how do we get in on the incubation side than just on when the projects ready for financing. And I think that is part certainly not all, but part of how we begin to address some of those issues that you said about the great inequalities in the United States.
Eve: [00:32:39] Well, thank you very much, Tom. I’ve really enjoyed it. I learned a lot more about CDFIs than I knew. A little more depressed now, but I think we’re going in the right direction.
Tom: [00:32:49] Yeah, it’s an imperfect system. I think we as CDFIs see it as how do we get big enough that we’re like a true peer to the banking system or a subset of the banking system? And I think, like I said, it’s great to get scaled up, but we also can’t lose the other things that don’t fit in the big box, right? And that’s where there’s always nuance. There’s always a niche we have to make sure we address.
Eve: [00:33:15] Well, thank you.
Tom: [00:33:16] Thank you.
Eve: [00:33:28] With 52,500 clients served and 1734 housing units funded, Tom is happily chugging away on making impact where it matters.
Eve: [00:33:47] You can find out more about this episode or others you might have missed on the show notes page at our website RethinkRealEstateForGood.co. There’s lots to listen to there. A special thanks to David Allardice for his excellent editing of this podcast and original music. And thanks to you for spending your time with me today. We’ll talk again soon but for now, this is Eve Picker signing off to go make some change.
Image courtesy of Tom De Simone