Hartford-based Co-opportunity, Inc. Receives National Financial Innovation Grant - One of five grantees nationally to be awarded a $310,000 grant
from the Center for Financial Services Innovation
(Hartford, CT March 8, 2011) - The Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI) announced today that Co-opportunity, Inc. is one of five nonprofit grantees across the country, and the only agency in Connecticut, to receive its Financial Capability Innovation Fund Award. The fund provides $310,000 to support Co-opportunity's launch of a ground-breaking project designed to help low-income, underserved consumers better manage their finances.
Co-opportunity will use the grant to leverage technology via a new online platform to enhance the effectiveness and scale of its innovative volunteer Budget Coaching Program, which promotes the financial capability of low-income, underserved consumers. In partnership with the United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut, Co-opportunity recruits and trains employees from local businesses in both Hartford and Bridgeport to become volunteer budget coaches. It then matches the coaches with low-income working families to help them improve their financial capability.
The online site would enable Co-opportunity to extend the length of the coaching engagement through the use of technology and to create a stand-alone online coaching model to explore expansion possibilities that deepen the program's impact and scale in cost-effective ways. Co-opportunity is also partnering with HelloWallet, an online personal financial management system with links to thousands of financial products, to increase the program's relevance and responsiveness to its participants' immediate and long-term needs.
Co-opportunity was selected by CFSI via a highly competitive process from among 246 applications totaling more than $67 million in requests. Organizations from more than 44 states responded to the request for proposals CFSI released in September 2010. In addition to the United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut and HelloWallet, the Human ResourceAgency of New Britain is a partner in the project.
"Co-opportunity's project represents a cutting-edge solution designed to create behavior changes in addition to knowledge gains," said Jennifer Tescher, President and CEO of CFSI. "By creatively leveraging technology, applying behavioral economics concepts, and more closely linking education to financial products this project promises to deliver measurable positive outcomes in the financial lives of underserved consumers."
Co-opportunity Executive Director Donna Taglianetti said, "This grant will help us increase the number of low- to moderate-income adults, youth and families who adopt positive financial behaviors and accumulate and preserve financial assets. This means Co-opportunity will be able to provide many more households with access to the financial services, education and support they need to help them make informed decisions and achieve financial stability."
HelloWallet founder and CEO Matt Fellowes added, "We're thrilled to support Co-opportunity's initiative to further improve the effectiveness of the Budget Coaching Program. We're thankful to have been selected as the technology partner, and are confident that HelloWallet's innovative budgeting, analytical and planning features will help participating households make better day-to-day money decisions to achieve long-term financial success."
The Financial Capability Innovation Fund is supported by a collaborative of funders- led by the Citi Foundation- and also includes Bank of America, Capital One, Morgan Stanley, Experian, U.S. Bank, and Visa Inc. In addition to the financial award, Co-opportunity will receive strategic guidance, technical assistance, visibility, and an unparalleled network in the financial services industry. For more information about the fund and the other four grantees visit
About CFSI: The Center for Financial Services Innovation is the nation's leading authority on financial services for under-banked consumers. Since 2004, its programs have focused on informing, connecting, and investing – gathering enhanced intelligence, brokering and supporting productive industry relationships, and fostering best-in-class products and strategies. CFSI works with leaders and innovators in the business,government and nonprofit sectors to transform the financial services landscape. For more on CFSI, go to www.cfsinnovation.comAbout Co-
opportunity, Inc.: Co-opportunity is an awarding winning nonprofit that creates neighborhood stability and economic prosperity by helping low- and moderate-income families increase their income, earnings and wealth. Its innovative programming has helped thousands of families become improve their financial stability and realize their dreams. Besides the Budget Coaching Program, Co-opportunity services include: financial education and counseling focused on debt reduction and credit improvement, first-time homebuyers' education and counseling, savings and asset building programs, free income tax preparation and assistance accessing mainstream banking and related financial products and services. For more information on Co-opportunity, go to www.co-opportunity.org
About HelloWallet: HelloWallet is a provider of independent, technology-based wealth-boosting services to employees of Fortune 500 companies, non-profits and other large institutions. The company helps its members confront a wide variety of financial challenges, including how to boost savings contributions and debt payments, set financial goals, and select appropriate savings vehicles suited to their needs. HelloWallet members are also provided with customized financial plans, 24/7 personal money management and monitoring, and an individualized bank shopper service, which looks at 130,000 different deposit accounts to find better prices for its members. In all cases, HelloWallet provides trusted, unbiased recommendations, never pushing "preferred products" or accepting referral fees. HelloWallet is a double-bottom line company, providing free financial advice to one less fortunate family for every five paying members. The company's commitment to democratize access to trustworthy, sophisticated financial guidance has been widely honored, including at the Clinton Global Initiative's 2009 Annual Meeting.
Recent Awards for Co-opportunity
- In 1999, Co-opportunity received the “Educator of the Year” award from the Woodworking Machinery Industry Association for its Precision Woods Manufacturing Project.
- In 2000, Co-opportunity’s Precision Woods Manufacturing Project was again honored with a HUD “Best of the Best” award, one of only three awards in the country.
- In 2000, Co-opportunity was a nominated by the US Department of Labor’s regional office for a best practices award in workforce development.
- In 2001, Co-opportunity’s IDA program received a best practices award from the Connecticut Association of Nonprofits
- In 2002, Co-opportunity’s IDA program received an honorable mention from the local United Way’s service awards program.
Dropouts Finding Way Back In
Work/Study Program In Hartford Provides Job Skills, School GEDs
By ANNIE TASKER
June 9, 2006
Gerardo Figueroa, 17, is lucky this day.
It's the kind of weather that blows umbrellas inside out, but he and three other YouthBuild students are working inside at 171 Rogers St. in Hartford, stuffing insulation between bare wooden beams in the basement.
It's also a better place to be than what Figueroa said was his most likely alternative:
"The streets," he said. "There's nowhere else to be."
YouthBuild is a 10-month work-study program for high school dropouts 16 to 24 years old. The students spend two weeks at a time studying to take their GED, then two weeks working construction. They get paid about $25 a day when they're working.
The program, funded by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development in addition to some federal and city grants, is run by Co-opportunity Inc., an organization that provides resources to low-income families. There are 21 students in the program's current cycle.
Working alongside experienced construction workers, the students learn skills designed to help them get jobs. The houses they build in cooperation with Habitat for Humanity go to low-income families.
"This shows people that, by giving young people a chance, they can actually do something," said Ellen Boynton, YouthBuild Hartford director. "We're giving them skills and making viable young citizens in the community."
Students learn every aspect of building a house. The two-story structure they are working on at Roger and Yale streets is a three bedroom, 11/2-bath colonial.
"This is the perfect learning situation," construction manager Mark Lobo said. "They learned how to do framing, siding, roofing, how to install windows and doors."
A partnership with Hartford's Carpentry Local 43 allows YouthBuild graduates to join the union as second-year apprentices once they finish their 10 months in the program. But, like most graduates, they're not guaranteed a job once they finish with YouthBuild.
"Part of what we're training them for is the real world," said Lobo. "People don't just hand you things. But there's no reason they shouldn't be able to get construction jobs."
At 10 a.m., break time, Figueroa goes outside and sits on the porch for some fresh air. The cool, wet air is a stark difference from the basement, thick with dust and the smell of construction.
He has seven months left with the program. Once he finishes at YouthBuild, he hopes to join a union or work as an independent contractor.
"I learned how to do porches, the right measurements, putting in windows," he said. Figueroa has a friend who lives across the street from the work site, and likes to point out his work to him. High school wasn't a good fit for Figueroa, but YouthBuild, he said, is a different story. It gives him something to be proud of.
"I needed my GED, and I needed to work," he said. "It had both things I need."
Copyright 2006, Hartford Courant
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Struggling Toward Homes Of Their Own
By DAN HAAR
August 15, 2004
Terence Floyd feels a warm twinge of gratification as the small crowd files into the classroom in a converted Hartford factory at the end of a workday.
Residents from Hartford and surrounding towns, almost all black or Latino, will learn what it takes to buy and keep a home. In growing numbers, they're striking while the interest rates are still hot, hoping - against hope, some of them - for that indescribable surge of financial power that intoxicates all of us, rich, poor and middle-class.
Floyd, director of housing and community development for the nonprofit agency Co-Opportunity Inc., does his part for participants who pass through the eight-week classes dreaming of driveways and lawn care.
But Floyd's job is not to dream. He looks around the room soberly. He knows that if just half the people in his classes close on a house of their own within two years, "we're doing good."
"Unfortunately, they don't all get there," he said.
It's a perfect picture of what's happening in minority homeownership across the nation. We see newly tapped interest among previously shut-out renters. We see the housing industry, community groups and lenders lavishing attention on these new buyers.
We see some progress, as homeownership among black and Latino households approaches 50 percent nationally - although it's much lower in Connecticut.
But despite the triumphs of hundreds of thousands of families, despite happy declarations from the Bush administration as well as Democrats, despite years of record-breaking low rates and alleged economic booms, despite widespread programs offering mortgages with little or no money down, the homeownership gap between white and black and Latino households remains largely unchanged.
Worse, the homeownership percentage rates have barely inched ahead for blacks, and haven't moved at all for Latinos, in a period of once-in-a-lifetime low borrowing rates.
Resolve shows in Donnaree Daley's stern face as she listens intently to the steps she must take. The former low-income housing resident, now living with her mother and 5-year-old daughter in Bloomfield as she works in customer service for Fleet Bank, will have to fight her own financial demons as well as the nation's. Wages remain stagnant as rank-and-file workers lack bargaining power amid paltry hiring.
And by most guesses, borrowing rates will jump upward, which will push people on the edge right back to the apartment-leasing office.
"I don't know how, but I know I'm going to do it," Daley said. "By December, I'm going to be debt-free."
Others in the class, including Janice Williams, moved to the Hartford area from big cities, for the open space and lower housing prices. "I love New Britain," Williams declared. "Like my daughter says, it's open land, and with open land, open minds."
They can see the goal, literally, as the class teacher, Effie Lucas, passes around snapshots of an actual closing by a former Co-Opportunity participant in a lawyer's office. There it is, the moment when life changes forever.
But if the ethnic gap in homeownership is to be narrowed, it's going to take much more than ambition, by policymakers as well as striving home buyers. More money, more ideas, more education, more programs and less empty campaign rhetoric.
President Bush has made minority homeownership a priority, at least in his speeches, since June 2002 - when he echoed a goal of mortgage-financing giant Fannie Mae to help put 5.5 million new buyers of color in homes by 2010. But although Fannie Mae has dedicated about $500 billion in loan funds to the effort, Bush's centerpiece, the American Dream Downpayment Initiative, simply moves money from an existing low- and moderate-income housing program for cities and states.
In Hartford, a big part of the problem is the housing itself. Single-family houses comprise just 14 percent of all residences. If all of those were owner-occupied, and every multi-family house was occupied by an owner, the homeownership rate would reach only 30 percent, according to Bob Kantor, director of the Fannie Mae office in the city.
"We're working on a strategy with the mayor to increase the homeownership rate," Kantor said. For example, he noted, "We're starting to see in the Latino community, families like to buy homes together."
Ultimately, progress will require real economic progress for have-nots - and that's where the question grows tricky. Narrowing the gap is correctly viewed as a necessary linchpin in solving all sorts of social and urban problems. At the same time, the gap is also caused by those problems, and so it's part of the cycle of poverty.
Ten years ago, 70 percent of white, non-Latino households owned their own homes. The percentages for blacks and Latinos were 42 and 41 percent, respectively. By 2001, black and Latino families had pushed ahead to 48 and 47 percent, while whites were at 74 percent.
Today, after three years of historically low borrowing rates, homeownership among blacks is a shade under the milestone of 50 percent. Latinos, though, remain at 47 percent, unchanged from three years ago.
Tell that to almost any real estate agent, and he or she will say, "No way." Indeed, between 2001 and 2003, the number of Latino homeowners grew by 515,000, or 11 percent, to 5.1 million. Latinos comprised 7.1 percent of all homeowners in 2003, up from 6.4 percent two years earlier.
Impressive numbers. Trouble is, the figures only reflect growth in the Latino population. So, while it's great for those half-million families, in the big picture, progress remains elusive.
Connecticut is gaining a share of minority homeowners in the cities and suburbs alike. But the overall numbers remain lower here because of high costs and the lack of any cohesive efforts to break past the city-suburb divisions. Numbers from the 1990 and 2000 census - the only reliable data - showed the Latino rate jumping from 25.9 percent to 28.1 percent, and the rate among black households advancing from 31.4 percent to 36.5 percent.
Enticing mortgages, it turns out, can only go so far.
"Wages are definitely not keeping up with inflation," Floyd said. "People are not making enough in general to live."
Part of the problem is getting the word out. As the classes make clear, the chasm isn't just a matter of income, but culture as well. Part of the issue is the residential real estate industry itself, traditionally white like the suburbs it aspired to build. Now that's changing, like those suburbs, only slower.
Bob Blanchard of ERA Blanchard & Rossetto Inc. in Manchester is proud of the changes, brought in large part by two of his minority agents, one born in Jamaica, the other in Bangladesh.
"There's a lot of people who are of color who are buying houses who aren't blond and blue-eyed. We enjoy the cultures, we enjoy the people when they come in," Blanchard said. Of the two agents, he said, "They're doing quite a good business with their own people plus anybody else that comes in."
That's the point; a lot of buyers want to work with someone who looks like them. Lorna Purrier, who moved from Jamaica in 1978 and has been with the agency for a decade, said virtually all of her participants are minority, largely immigrant. One family has sent Purrier a whopping 10 referrals since she helped them overcome three earlier credit rejections from banks.
"I speak their language, I understand their language," said Purrier, volume leader at her agency last year. "They feel more comfortable working with me."
Indeed, said Kantor at Fannie Mae, "We think there's a lot of job opportunities for the minority communities. Historically, the housing sector has been an all-white sector."
The trend points to progress, but it needs to be joined by stronger overall economic policies, such as advancing the earned-income tax credit in Connecticut. The single action that would do the most for moderate-income homeownership - minority or not - could well be a U.S. Justice Department attack on anti-union, anti-female practices at giant retailers, starting with Wal-Mart. Don't look for that anytime soon.
Housing advocates, in fact, worry that a push to boost homeownership rates without proper support could lead to a backward fall, as foreclosure rates rise and as we forget about rental housing.
"It's a noble goal," said Diane Randall, director of the Hartford-based Partnership for Strong Communities.
But she added, "How low of a household income can you go and still get people into the homeownership market? There has to be affordable rental housing available."
Copyright 2004, Hartford Courant
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