Inside ESL FCU’s Special Purpose Credit Program
Learn how implementing an SPCP allowed ESL Federal Credit Union to fulfill its goal of helping first-time home buyers in its community.
How an SPCP allowed the credit union to fulfill its goal of helping first-time home buyers in its community.
As NCUA Chairman Todd Harper stated in guidance promoting the programs, SPCPs “foster greater financial inclusion and ensure that the cooperative nature of the credit union system lives up to its mission of meeting the credit needs of consumers, including underserved populations, communities of color, and those of modest means.”
Understanding just how widespread SPCPs are can be difficult though, especially considering the NCUA does not determine their eligibility. However, we were able to identify one such program offered by ESL FCU, a multiple common bond credit union based in Rochester, NY.
And, the credit union’s vice president and director of corporate communications, Rich Pulvino, was willing to share more about the organization’s ESL First-Time Homebuyer Grant, offering a prime example of what a successful SPCP looks like, as well as the impact it can have on members.
Inside the Program
The purpose of the ESL First-Time Homebuyer Grant is “to advance racial and ethnic equity in Greater Rochester through one of the most important wealth-building tools—homeownership.” Through the grant, the credit union aims to make owning a home possible for buyers in diverse neighborhoods that have faced lower homeownership rates due to systemic inequalities.
Specifically, the program offers eligible Black and Latino first-time homebuyers who meet certain household income guidelines the ability to earn up to $10,000 to be used for a down payment and closing cost assistance, along with an additional $500 toward homeownership counseling.
The program itself, Pulvino told us, was born from “ESL looking at how we could best live our purpose to help our community thrive and prosper.” To this end, he said, “We had a special project aimed at how we could make homeownership more equitable in the Greater Rochester community.”
While pursuing this initiative, Pulvino continued, “We became aware of credit unions being able to launch [SPCPs] based on Regulation B in the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and information published by the CFPB encouraging financial institutions to implement these programs.”
Before launching the ESL First-Time Homebuyer Grant, the organization had to ensure it met all compliance regulations. “Thanks to data collected and presented by local organizations in our community,” Pulvino said, “we were able to officially define ‘an economically disadvantaged class of individuals,’ as required for an SPCP.”
The research revealed that Black and Latino residents in the Greater Rochester area have homeownership rates that are less than half that of white residents. From these findings, he explains, “We were able to show our regulators that the data supports the need for this program that creates credit opportunities for borrowers by providing grant assistance for down payments and closing costs.”
Once the program was designed, ESL presented it to the NCUA to be certain it was in line with fair lending rules and received the agency’s go-ahead. Following its launch, Pulvino added, even though it’s not a requirement, the credit union still “reviews the program on annual basis to track and analyze its effectiveness and to identify improvement opportunities.”
The response to the SPCP has been highly positive, with the credit union surpassing its overall application goal within just 12 months. Additionally, the program has helped ESL forge even stronger connections with its community.
“One of the most important inroads we’ve made has been with the realtor community,” Pulvino said, “specifically the Greater Rochester Association of Realtors.” That organization has both a Black and Latino caucus, which, “have been instrumental and outstanding partners in helping us get the word out about our grant program.”
Bringing the ESL First-Time Homebuyer Grant to life was not easy, as it required “a dedicated, cross-functional team” with critical collaboration from several departments within the organization to ultimately make the program a reality. The process was not a short one either, as it took the credit more than a year to go from the investigatory phase all the way to its implementation and eventual launch.
However, according to Pulvino, these hurdles are far outweighed by the positive impact the program has had. In fact, even the extended timeline proved beneficial in its own way by allowing for “thorough research to ensure the program was in the best shape possible prior to launch,” he said.
The bigger takeaway though is of course how the program has helped ESL fulfill its mission of helping its members succeed. As Pulvino put it, “SPCPs are critical tools that can help improve economic inclusion by combatting racial and ethnic disparities that exist in many communities throughout the U.S.”
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