The Center for Community Self-Help (Self-Help) is a community development lender and real estate developer. It was founded in Durham, North Carolina in 1980. Self-Help is one of the largest community development financial institutions in the United States, and a leader in profitably lending to underserved borrowers and communities.
Self Help's mission is to create and protect ownership and economic opportunity for all. Self-Help does this by providing responsible financial services, lending to small businesses and nonprofits, developing real estate and promoting fair financial practices. While Self-Help's work benefits communities of all kinds, the focus is on those who may be underserved by conventional lenders, including people of color, women, rural residents and low-wealth families and communities.
Impact. Through 2014, Self-Help provided $6.8 billion in financing, representing over 100,000 loans to families, individuals and organizations. Self-Help Credit Union has 18 branch offices located all over North Carolina.
In recent years Self-Help's credit union network has expanded in North Carolina, California and the Chicago area, as summarized here:
North Carolina. In recent years Self-Help Credit Union has merged with nine community-focused credit unions.These locally-rooted institutions were seeking to stabilize their operations and increase their products and services. In one recent example, a 2014 merger with Generations Community Credit Union helped to preserve and expand services for predominantly African-American communities in eastern and central NC.
California. In 2008, Self-Help started serving in California as Self-Help Federal Credit Union (SHFCU). SHFCU has grown through eight mergers with community-focused credit unions throughout the state. In Los Angeles, Self-Help acquired five stores from a conventional check casher and converted them into a hybrid check casher/credit union model that serves unbanked and underbanked consumers.
Chicago. When federal regulators closed Second Federal Savings and Loan in the Chicago area, Self-Help partnered with local community organizations to keep its branches open and assist customers. In 2012, Self-Help acquired Second Federal S&L and continued service to 14,000 predominantly Latino depositors and borrowers.
Altogether, Self-Help Credit Union and Self-Help Federal Credit Union have merged with 14 credit unions and one bank to create a network of over 40 branches serving almost 130,000 people in three states.
Martin Eakes and Bonnie Wright founded Self-Help in 1980 to provide management assistance to worker-cooperative businesses in low-income communities. In 1984, Self-Help established its financing affiliates - Self-Help Credit Union and Self-Help Ventures Fund - to help disadvantaged individuals build wealth through home and small business ownership.
Self-Help's early lending focused on small businesses. The organization adapted international microlending models to the U.S. market, and then expanded into larger loans well-suited to bigger firms that were a main source of employment in rural communities. Over the years, Self-Help diversified its lending to businesses and nonprofits. Through 2014, Self-Help had made over $800 million in loans to entrepreneurs.
In 1985 Self-Help began making home loans to North Carolina families who were unable to get conventional mortgages. The goal was to expand homeownership opportunities as a way to help lower- and middle-class families build wealth and financial security. Looking to expand its community development impact, in the late 1980s, Self-Help worked with Fannie Mae to create more home-buying opportunities for underserved borrowers. After initial successes, Self-Help partnered with Fannie Mae and the Ford Foundation in 1998 to create the Community Advantage Program, which provides credit enhancement to conventional lenders, enabling them to make flexible home loans to low-wealth families. The Community Advantage Program made over $2 billion in affordable home mortgage loans to minority and low-wealth homebuyers nationwide over a five-year period. Self-Help tracked the data from this program, which showed that low-income borrowers are good credit risks when they are offered responsible loans at fair rates.
Self-Help's first real estate development project took place in Durham, NC, where Self-Help converted a downtown office building into affordable space for local nonprofits and small businesses (and Self-Help's own lending office). Since then Self-Help has developed and invested $144 million in commercial real estate projects to invigorate downtown areas and neighborhoods, and created affordable housing for 228 families.
In the late 1990s, homeowners began coming to Self-Help Credit Union seeking help to avoid foreclosure after unscrupulous subprime lenders had siphoned off their home equity. The "tipping point" came the day Self-Help staff reviewed the paperwork on a $29,000 mortgage—showing the family had been charged $15,000 in fees! In response to such abusive—and completely legal—loans, Self-Help worked with a state coalition in 1999 to help pass the North Carolina Predatory Lending Law, the first such law in the country. In 2002, Self-Help established the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) to build on initial successes and expand our focus nationally, and to tackle practices such as payday lending in addition to mortgage lending. Since 2002, CRL has worked with community advocates, policymakers and industry groups to fight against outrageous lending abuses that strip billions of dollars from American families.
Over the years Self-Help has received numerous awards for its work, from organizations such as Preservation North Carolina, the North Carolina Department of Commerce, and the Triangle Commercial Real Estate Women.
In 2007, Self-Help was named one of the twelve high-impact nonprofits in the book Forces For Good along with other organizations such as America's Second Harvest, Habitat for Humanity, The Heritage Foundation, and Teach for America.
In June 2009, Self-Help won the Dora Maxwell Social Responsibility Award, which "recognizes and promotes credit unions’ social responsibility efforts within the communities they serve."
In 2009, AARP awarded Self-Help co-founder and CEO Martin Eakes an Inspire Award, which "pays tribute to ten extraordinary people age 50 and over who have made the world a better place through their innovative thinking, passion, and perseverance." Other 2009 winners included Glenn Close, Quincy Jones, and Alma Powell.
In 2011, The Ford Foundation named co-founder and CEO Martin Eakes named one of twelve Social Change Visionaries honored by in recognition of the foundation’s 75th birthday. All twelve social innovators were awarded $100,000. Ford’s release stated that “Martin Eakes is a national leader in the fight against abusive financial practices that target poor people and trap them in cycles of poverty.