Expecting a record year for lending and more growth, the Lancaster-based Community First Fund has been adding staff and restructuring its executive team.
The nonprofit economic development organization recently hired Michael Carper, the former CEO of the Housing Development Corp. MidAtlantic, to be its chief credit officer.
Community First Fund also contracted with a finance expert from Chicago to serve as CFO until it hires someone to the post full-time.
“We’re adding and growing dramatically,” said Dan Betancourt, the organization’s president and CEO.
Community First Fund provides financing for small businesses, affordable housing projects and nonprofit organizations located in low-income communities and serving disadvantaged groups, including Latino and African-American entrepreneurs.
And the need for services is rising.
The organization, which started out serving Lancaster, now covers 15 counties in Central Pennsylvania, the Lehigh Valley and suburban Philadelphia. Its staff has grown from 20 to 40 over the past five years and it is making more direct loans to businesses, with volume rising from about $10 million to $30 million in the past three years.
The nonprofit also has opened new loan offices in Allentown and Philadelphia where it would like to add more people to expand lending.
“We expect to go deeper into markets we are in,” Betancourt said.
But depth, he said, requires a bigger team. That starts at the executive level.
In addition to adding new execs, the nonprofit has made some internal promotions.
COO Joan Brodhead was recently named senior executive vice president and chief strategic initiatives officer, while senior vice president of lending James Buerger was elevated to executive vice president and chief lending officer.
Community First also has hired staff to work under each of the C-suite executives.
The growth comes at a time when Community First has been positioning itself as a go-to resource for investors and developers interested in the federal opportunity zone program, in which investors can get a tax break on capital gains by investing in projects in qualified distressed areas, dubbed opportunity zones.
The investments typically will flow through what are known as qualified opportunity funds. Community First has been working to develop such funds, which could work in combination with other state and federal incentives.
Among the most notable of those is the New Markets Tax Credit program, a federal tax credit program operated by the U.S. Treasury Department that helps support large urban redevelopment projects.
Community First did not get any credits this year but hopes its clients still can take advantage of the incentives.
“We plan to work with clients and try to help them find an allocation through another organization,” Betancourt said.
And it has snagged other kinds of funding. Community First recently received a $1.5 million federal grant from the Treasury’s Capital Magnet Fund, a grant program that helps finance low-income housing projects.
Betancourt said the plan is to use that grant as seed capital in the form of low-interest loans to support developers who receive Low-Income Housing Tax Credits from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Authority in Harrisburg.
Community First, meanwhile, will kick in $4.5 million of its own funds, bumping the total to $6 million. Betancourt said he hopes to be able to help finance about 400 affordable housing units across the organization’s footprint.
Community First also has rolled out an online application for small businesses looking for loans. Betancourt said this will help the organization process applications more quickly and at a higher volume, hopefully steering some small businesses away from predatory online lenders that charge higher interest rates and fees.
Community First is looking to cut a 60-day application process down to about 30 to 45 days, Betancourt said.
“I think we will be able to work with more clients,” he said.