Community Loan Fund: 30 years of helping others

The organization has dedicated itself to supporting people, nonprofits and businesses needing a hand up

Anne Quintal of Seabrook survived an abusive relationship that almost killed her. Left with no credit, no lender would consider her case when she found her dream home in a manufactured housing community in Seabrook.

Janet Prince of New Castle wanted to invest for stable income and a great return. Equally important, she wanted to invest in her community.

On Nov. 14 at Redhook Brewery in Portsmouth, the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund celebrated 30 years of helping people like Quintal and Prince achieve their goals.

As an investor, I enjoyed sampling brews and appetizers at the event. But more important was the inspiration gained from firsthand accounts of how my investment supports people, nonprofits, and businesses needing a hand up.

The Community Loan Fund was founded, according to Sally Hatch, director of investor relations, on two core beliefs. First is that many of the problems of low-income people and communities are a result of lack of access to capital. Second is that there are people with access to capital wanting to use it to do good. The fund brings those two groups together.

Looking for a socially responsible investment for their pension fund, the Sisters of Mercy kicked off the first loan in 1983 with an investment of $43,000, enabling the residents of Meredith Trailer Park to purchase the land their homes occupied. Hatch explained that the owner didn’t want to sell to developers, but the residents couldn’t qualify for a bank loan, even when they formed a cooperative. Without the Community Loan Fund, 13 families would have lost their homes.

The Sisters of Mercy handed over that first check with the words, “You better do something good with this and you better pay it back,” President Juliana Eades told the Portsmouth audience of over 100.

“New Hampshire Community Loan Fund didn’t judge me,” Quintal said.

The Community Loan Fund has done both. During its 30-year tenure it has helped over 100 manufactured home parks convert to resident-owned cooperatives and has developed programs to help small businesses, nonprofits, and individuals.

When she found her dream home and started calling lenders, Quintal said, the first told her, “Not interested,” and the second, “Why would we want to work with someone like you?” Discouraged, she got up the courage to call Community Loan Fund mortgage loan originator Ron Thompson.

Since the Community Loan Fund underwrites every one of its loans, Thompson said, it can look carefully at each applicant’s individual situation. Quintal’s ex-husband hadn’t allowed her to have credit, so Thompson asked for evidence that she had paid three bills on time for the past year.

“New Hampshire Community Loan Fund didn’t judge me,” Quintal said. She fought back tears when describing the phone call saying her mortgage had been approved.

The tool that makes the fund work, Eades said, is the ability to take money from investors, put it out for use by low-income people and communities, and then repay it. What the loan fund gives to its investors is “an IOU, and our best Girl Scout promise to repay,” she said.

The audience laughed when Eades then said, “I am required to say that past performance is no indication of future performance, and we are not insured by the FDIC or anybody else.”

Investors David and Jo Lynne Johnson of Stratham trust that Girl Scout promise. “I’ve worked for John Hancock in Boston and I’ve told people about their loss rate and they just shake their heads,” David said.

To date, not a single investor has lost any money, said Hatch.

The Johnsons said their money is in the right place because they can see the good it does. They live near the Exeter-Hampton Cooperative, a manufactured home community using a loan from the Community Loan Fund to install a new water system and pave roads. When the residents bought their land and became a cooperative, “there was a pride that you could see,” said Jo Lynne. “Houses got spruced up.”

Investor Steven Dawson of Brentwood trusts the fund to make good judgments for where to invest his money and has confidence that it will be repaid. “The Community Loan Fund has the wisdom in good and bad times to help people stabilize their lives,” he said.

With a minimum investment of $1,000 earning 1 to 5 percent, this is a win-win situation for investors wanting to see their money work for the New Hampshire.

Connie Eppich is a resident of Madbury and investor in the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund.

Categories: Opinion