National nonprofit lender, grantor returns to Cleveland after 15 years absence

A national credit and grant organization that pulled out of Cleveland 15 years ago returns to the area to help narrow the gaps in wealth, work and welfare.

Local Initiatives Support Corp., better known as LISC, tacitly began rebuilding its presence here last year by providing more than $ 1 million in loans and grants to small businesses, community groups, and senior housing refurbishments in the city center forgave. Now the New York-based nonprofit is setting up a local office supported with $ 3 million in support from the Cleveland Foundation.

At the end of June, the Board of Trustees approved a three-year grant to support LISC in opening this office, hiring staff and developing a longer-term strategy. Funding is flowing after more than two years of discussions about ways to pump overseas cash into everything from revitalizing the neighborhood to financial advice and human resource development.

LISC, launched in 1979 by the Ford Foundation, acts as an intermediary between donors – banks, private companies, foundations and governments – and people and places in need. The non-profit provides loans, grants, and equity for real estate development and businesses, as well as technical support for community development companies and other organizations.

“I think they bring a lot of national resources with them that can be used here in Cleveland,” said India Pierce Lee, senior vice president of the Cleveland Foundation, who leads grant awards and former LISC senior program director, who served here from 1998 until 2004 headed an office.

The nonprofit joined in 1981 with support from local foundations and corporations in Cleveland. For over a quarter of a century in the region, LISC has invested more than $ 33 million in affordable housing. The northeast Ohio office once comprised six-county territory.

LISC quietly closed its doors here in 2006 after Lee switched to another job.

Denise Scott, executive vice president of programs for the nonprofit, said she did not know the exact reasons for the decision. But the organization has regularly left markets due to funding problems, lack of local support, or a feeling that its programs are not doing enough in the communities.

“I was always sad when LISC got out,” said Scott, who oversees the organization’s 37 city offices and national programs. “Now that I’m in this seat, I’m happy to say we’re coming back.”

In the intervening years, the Group’s mission has grown well beyond affordable housing to include job creation, business growth, education, safety and health. LISC, which also provides services in approximately 2,200 rural areas, invests more than $ 1 billion annually in a wide range of programs.

As a community development financial institution, the nonprofit provides debt and equity to real estate developers, small businesses, and other clients who may have difficulty obtaining traditional funding. LISC often invests some of the earliest and riskiest funds in a project.

For example, last year the nonprofit gave the owner of Carter Manor a $ 450,000 loan to study the feasibility of renovating the building, a senior citizen tower block on downtown Prospect Avenue. In May, a Chicago-based developer announced plans to press ahead with a $ 18 million renovation of the 270-unit rental property.

Through a trio of affiliates, LISC connects investors and developers in low income tax credit deals; Uses State New Market Tax Credits to Fill Funding Gaps for Projects in Distressed Communities; and serves as a Small Business Administration Lender.

In November, the group announced an initiative called Project 10X, a decade-long initiative to improve the health and prosperity of colored communities. So far, the $ 1 billion effort is being used by large technology, retail, and finance companies; Business start-ups; and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, ex-wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Project 10X debuted when discussions of LISC’s return to Cleveland were in full swing. However, the program’s goals are closely aligned with the Cleveland Foundation’s increasing emphasis on justice, said Keisha Gonzalez, program manager for the foundation for impact investment and community development initiatives.

“I think everyone is collectively on this journey of justice, justice and how it shows in community development and economic development,” said Gonzalez.

In the near term, LISC has committed to selecting four geographic areas to invest in, said Kevin Jordan, a senior vice president who lives in the Cleveland area and represents LISC locally as the nonprofit searches for a local executive director.

The first two target areas are the adjoining Stockyards and Clark-Fulton neighborhoods on the West Side of Cleveland and the long-suffering city of East Cleveland.

Cuyahoga County officials brought LISC to East Cleveland, Mayor Brandon King said. The organization is contributing to an emerging master planning process centered on approximately 40 acres near the city’s western border. And the nonprofit is helping the city’s fledgling community development company, the Northeast Ohio Alliance for Hope, with staffing levels and expertise.

“We want to ensure that high quality homes and businesses are built in the city that support high quality housing to protect the integrity of current residents and new residents. I think LISC has an excellent track record in these two areas, ”said King. “And I think they will play a very important role in ensuring that mixed income development is done in a responsible manner.”

It is too early to say how important LISC can be in Cleveland.

Tania Menesse, president and CEO of the Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, said she was encouraged by the work LISC did during the worst part of the pandemic last year to prop up small businesses through grants to community development companies and through the state paycheck protection program .

Most of the direct loans or grants went to minority or women-owned companies with fewer than 10 employees, Scott said.

“We are a growing market,” said Menesse. “We need all the resources we can get.”


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