“I was walking down Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard one day and had in mind to open a bank account. I saw Lower East Side People’s Federal Credit Union and became a member,” says Steward Mitchell, a Harlem resident at the time. That was 2010, and he says, ever since, “It’s been very good to me. I’ve opened a checking and savings account, and the credit union’s financial counseling and planning programs helped me start a budget and a plan. They’re great people; they really care.”
Steward is one of approximately 20,000 people across New York City, from mostly low-income and immigrant communities, who have found a financial home at LESPFCU in the credit union’s 30 years of existence. In this time, the CDFI has reinvested more than $77 million into the community in the form of loans, and mobilized more than $30 million in local savings.
“We provide a very wide range of products and services—savings, checking, and money market accounts, CDs, consumer and business loans, credit cards, and mortgages for low-income housing co-ops,” says Linda Levy, LESPFCU’s CEO. “From the very beginning, we’ve tried be a full service financial institution alternative to commercial banks so that our members would not feel like they are getting second rate services.”
Currently, New York City’s largest community development credit union operates three branches in Manhattan’s Lower East Side and East and Central Harlem. It also runs an innovative full-service mobile bus branch that travels from borough to borough and features two offices, an ATM, and a teller window.
This footprint is about to grow. The CDFI won a $1.725 million NEXT Opportunity Award to expand in three neighborhoods—Manhattan’s East Harlem; Staten Island’s North Shore; and Jackson Heights in Queens—where there is great need for responsible financial services, loans, and education.
The expansion comes in response to community demand, which is partly determined through the mobile branch. Linda explains, “Community groups ask us to bring the bus to them, and if it’s a right fit we do. For example, we have been bringing the mobile branch to Staten Island for a year. It’s enabled us to determine what the needs are and identify the community’s commitment to what we offer.”
With the NEXT Award, LESPFCU expects to set up a permanent location in Staten Island and establish a storefront in East Harlem, as well as increase its presence in Jackson Heights. The grant piece of the Award will be used for business planning and building out the Staten Island space. And the secondary capital portion of the Award will enable the credit union to grow in members and size of deposits without affecting its bottom line.
Says Linda, “With this expansion we expect to provide affordable financial services to more than 10,000 members in NYC and finance over $5 million in loans for affordable housing, debt consolidation, immigration relief, credit building, and other consumer needs.”