Volunteer-run credit union focuses on public housing residents

Shiloh of Alexandria Federal Credit Union has 680 members, $2.4 million in assets and zero employees.

The volunteer-run financial institution has been serving members of Shiloh Baptist Church in Alexandria — one of the country’s oldest African American churches — and nearby public housing residents, for 20 years. Membership costs $1.

It is an example of the sort of financial institution that rarely gets much attention in too-big-to-fail debates and Capitol Hill reforms, but is nonetheless vital to its tiny community.

Last year, Shiloh of Alexandria provided more than $700,000 in loans. According to the National Credit Union Association, which regulates Shiloh of Alexandria, the institution is in good standing.

“Our mission is to combat predatory lending and to promote wealth-building — not in terms of being like Donald Trump, but in terms of being able to provide the basic things in life for yourself,” said John DuPree, who manages the institution. “Being able to afford a home, getting a credit card, having health care in case you get sick — all of those things the middle class takes for granted are very foreign to some folks.”

DuPree’s parents founded the credit union in 1993. They handwrote a charter and asked the National Association of Federal Credit Unions for help getting started.

“We weren’t banking people,” DuPree, 48, said. “My father worked for the government, my mother was a teacher. They just wanted to serve our congregation and our community.”

The credit union is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 9:30 a.m. to noon. Many of the members come to church on Sunday morning and then stop by to do their banking.

“If there’s an emergency, they’ll usually text me or the board president. If they need money, we’ll issue them a check or get a courier service to deliver checks to people,” said DuPree, who works as an engineer for the Environmental Protection Agency.

The credit union used to offer group financial counseling classes every three months, but that changed as the institution’s clientele became more diverse during the recession.

“It’s very different — helping someone who made six figures and lost their job, and helping a single mother who lives in the projects and never had a job in the first place,” he said.

Not every loan makes money

On Wednesday evenings, DuPree gets together with the bank’s president and vice presidentto review loan requests. They meet for three hours and read through up to a dozenapplications from start to finish.

“It can be as little as a $300 loan to pay off a cell phone bill, all the way up to a $30,000 car loan,” DuPree said.

The majority of the credit union’s loans are used to consolidate and pay off other debts, like payday loans that come with prohibitively high interest rates, DuPree said. Shiloh Federal also makes small-business loans.

“They’ll come in with a 15 or 20 percent loan and we’ll help them refinance at 5 or 6 percent,” DuPree said. “The only thing we don’t do are loans for cable bills — we think it’s unnecessary and wasteful.”

The credit union used to give out mortgage loans — it has financed 48 houses to date — but stopped three years ago once federal housing regulations became more stringent and paperwork requirements more intense.

“Credit unions like Shiloh are often lost in the shuffle,” said Bill Cheney, chief executive of the Credit Union National Association. “Most rules don’t take into account the interests of smaller financial institutions.”

Today, DuPree and his team of volunteers help counsel members who are interested in buying a home. They help potential home buyers improve their credit scores, save for a down payment and guide them through the mortgage process.

Mostly, though, the credit union specializes in shorter-term loans that come with an 8.9 percent interest rate and no fees.

“We actually lose money on those transactions — the credit report costs money, the loan documents cost money. We generally lose $20 to loan out $300,” DuPree said. “But the bigger loans, like car loans make enough money that at the end of the day, we can make some money.”

And that, DuPree said, is enough to keep the credit union running.

“We don’t want to get rich or start a chain,” he said. “Our goals are week-to-week: Can we help our friend buy a car? Can we help this lady fix her heating system?”

Abha Bhattarai covers local retail, hospitality and banking for The Washington Post. She has previously written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times.

business

capitalbusiness

Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Business

business

capitalbusiness

Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters