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VOL. 11 | NO. 13 | Saturday, March 31, 2018

Community LIFT Looking to Build $5 Million Loan Pool Amid Growth


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An organization that pursues sources of financial, human and intellectual capital to strategically revitalize neighborhoods wants to build a $5 million loan pool for investing in Memphis communities and leaders.

Cody Brock, top, and Emily Pacheco, bottom, lift a painted plywood board as they board up a derelict home Thursday, March 22. The effort was brought forth by The Heights CDC and supported by Community LIFT, a nonprofit organization dedicated to economic and community development. (Memphis News/Houston Cofield)

The ambitious three-year target laid out recently by Eric Robertson, president of Community LIFT – which stands for Leveraging Investments for Transformation – appears within reach as LIFT’s lending arm, River City Capital Investment, builds momentum.

River City recently announced closing on three loans totaling $195,000 to support small businesses, and so far this year has approved a total of $384,000 in loans.

Community LIFT, with offices Downtown near Court Square, is an umbrella organization created in 2010. LIFT emerged from a citywide planning process called Greater Memphis Neighborhoods. Robertson, GMN’s former project leader, is a native Memphian who graduated from Hillcrest High.

Robertson patterned the structure of Community LIFT based on some of what he saw at the Center City Commission (now the Downtown Memphis Commission), where he previously was chief administrative officer. He designed LIFT to be a clearinghouse for sources that help build sustainable, thriving communities. Those sources are typically community development corporations, grassroots leaders and small businesses.

As a graduate of NeighborWorks America & Harvard Kennedy School's Achieving Excellence Program, Robertson has a head for community revitalization, but he also has a heart for it. He wants his native city to flourish. The communities aren’t just ZIP codes or masses on a map. He sees faces and knows names.

At the same time, he’s impatient with the conversations about how much potential Memphis has. “A huge swath of the population is not experiencing what we all see to be as a progression of the city,” he said.

While trying to make a substantial change in Memphis, Community LIFT supports CDCs and grassroots leaders citywide. River City Capital is focused on targeted areas – Binghampton, Highland Heights, Frayser, the Medical District (Crosstown) and parts of South Memphis. The loans through River City are provided only to businesses in those neighborhoods.

Shab Chic Marketplace received a $60,000 seed loan recently to create a marketplace formed by connected shipping containers in the Edge District. In the Broad Avenue Arts District, The Liquor Store restaurant received an $85,000 loan partly to expand the diner’s footprint, while an auto-repair business, Euro Imports of Memphis, received a $50,000 loan to buy equipment that will help with growth.

One of the organizations that received a LIFT grant is JUICE Orange Mound. Created about a year ago, JUICE volunteers go door-to-door four times a year to collect spare change. The money is used for community projects. LIFT gave the nonprofit $2,500 early in its inception, which in turn helped set up a fall 5K fundraiser and a community health fair.

“It was a strong start to help us,” said JUICE founder Britney Thornton. “I’m very grateful for LIFT.”

LIFT also helped Highland Heights CDC create a revitalization program, and because of its support, helps make its “Spring Break Board Up” project possible, said Jared Myers, the CDC’s executive director.

(From left to right) Nada Shaaban, Emily Pacheco, Talonda Marie and Cody Brock all volunteered their time through Serve901 and Streets Ministries to partner with Community LIFT for the "Board Up" event on March 22. (Memphis News/Houston Cofield)

In partnership with a church, two nonprofits and Kingsbury and Douglass high schools, the CDC boarded up eight nuisance houses this month. Encouraging partnership arrangements like that, LIFT is helping create sustainable programs, Myers said. “They’ve helped us build our capacity,” he said.

Robertson identified LIFT’s primary, general accomplishments:

• Attracted philanthropic and government dollars for the creation of the city’s only dedicated funding source for CDCs, thus building the capacity and ability of the CDCs. In 2017, its first year to offer grants, LIFT provided $325,000 to support CDCs.

• Deployed more than $1 million into distressed neighborhoods through its lending arm, River City Capital, which is in its fourth year. The amount had an estimated $9 million in economic impact in targeted neighborhoods, Robertson said, considering the return on investment through metrics such as job creation.

• Championed the cause of neighborhood improvement as a critical issue among civic leaders and key institutions. LIFT’s impact included several recommendations adopted by EDGE’s Community Builder payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) program, Robertson said.

In addition to growing its pool of loan money in the next three years, LIFT wants to bring more CDCs up to a high level of functioning to adequately serve their populations. LIFT officials also want to support a network of resident leaders who will begin to collectively address shared goals on such issues as transportation and code enforcement.

Robertson won’t be satisfied with any accomplishments until a “sizeable number of people” who make up the bottom or top of negative lists see a huge difference in their quality of life in Memphis.

“There’s a lot of work to be done,” Robertson said. “I’m hard on myself for what we are accomplishing. In my lifetime, I want us to move the needle.”

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