Columbia Financial Inclusion

What are the target goals?
Since 2010, city officials in Columbia have led efforts to integrate financial inclusion into city government departments and services, directly funded financial empowerment programs, enacted policies to support financial inclusion and partnered with the private and nonprofit sectors to ensure all of the city's residents have the opportunity to achieve financial stability. City leaders have publicly committed to supporting a financial inclusion agenda and are using their bully pulpit to discuss the importance of financial empowerment and to educate the public on what services and programs exist. 

What is the strategy? 
Columbia's financial inclusion programming developed out of the city's long running homeownership assistance program. Since 1975, the city has made home loans (using Community Development Block Grant dollars) and conducted homebuyer counseling and case management. 

The city also directly funds dedicated staff responsible for implementing its financial inclusion agenda. Given the city's growing commitment to and focus on financial empowerment, city officials created the Office of Family Financial Stability, housed within the Community Development Department. Employees within the Office of Family Financial Stability help city departments as well as internal and external stakeholders align programs, track and evaluate results, and strategically plan for the future of Columbia's efforts to help improve residents' financial health. 

Who are the partners? 

To integrate financial inclusion into city government departments and services, city leaders created committees within city government to focus on helping unbanked residents access bank accounts, and to curtail the prevalence of and reliance on predatory lending in the city. These committees are using census data in addition to local data to evaluate residents' needs and plan for future initiatives. 

Since 2002, the city has partnered with Bank of America and Wells Fargo Bank to promote financial education and homeownership. Currently, there are six bank partners supporting the city's housing programs, which have resulted in over $110 million in loans over the past 14 years. Additional partners in Columbia's financial inclusion work include the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, United Way of the Midlands, Benefit Bank of South Carolina and HELP - an organization focused on foreclosure assistance. 

How is this project financed? 

The city is directly funding several financial inclusion programs, including a matched-savings individual development account (IDA) program, credit counseling, a Bank On Columbia pilot initiative and Access Columbia - a fair housing seminar that provides financial education to individuals ages five and older; the last event attracted over 400 residents. 

To promote the use of savings accounts, Columbia operates the largest IDA program in South Carolina and offers a 3:1 savings match. The South Carolina Association of Community Development provides funding support, and the city leads the marketing and outreach efforts. 

When was the timeline for this project? 

Starting in 2010, city officials in Columbia have led efforts to integrate financial inclusion into a multitude of sectors and programs.  Using local legislative power, elected officials have enacted policies that further Columbia's efforts to promote financial inclusion. For example, in 2012, the city revamped its home loan program to make housing more affordable. To promote small business growth, the city also approved small loans for small businesses, which are often used as gap loans to help individuals to start or grow their business. These types of investments, combined with financial education, are helping the residents of Columbia improve their financial well-being while improving the local economy. 

To help residents with access to mainstream financial services, the city initiated efforts in late 2014 to pilot Bank On Columbia, which is targeted to the city's largest public housing facility. The city hired a Bank On Columbia administrator to lead the city's pilot efforts. Partnering with Wells Fargo Bank, the city plans to expand Bank On Columbia citywide if it proves to be successful in the pilot phase. 

Resources 
South Carolina Association of Community Development 

NLC Staff Contact 
Heidi Goldberg
Director, Economic Opportunity and Financial Empowerment
Institute for Youth, Education, and Families
202-626-3069
goldberg@nlc.org

This post was last updated in June 2015

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