CommunityWorks Carolina: Building places one community at a time

Established in 2008, CommunityWorks Carolina (CWC) is an Upstate non-profit which focuses its efforts on supporting affordable housing and community development, seeing both as critical vehicles for fostering stable families and healthy communities.

Through education, lending and investing, the organization has, to date, generated more than $44 million in local economic development and has helped more than 400 families achieve their dreams of home ownership and financial stability.

Formerly known as Greenville Housing Fund, the group's mission is clear: They strive to build people and places - families, neighborhoods, and communities - to help low-wealth areas break out of the cycle of generational poverty.

As a community-lending nonprofit, CWC offers a growing variety of affordable housing, personal financial stability and community economic development programs. Services include traditional programs like down payment assistance and affordable mortgages, but CWC also offer loans to businesses and developers, matched Individual Development Accountants, and business training, among other things.

And it is that variety of services which is essential in helping CommunityWorks achieve development goals at the community level, according to Deborah McKetty, CWC's president and CEO.

"Affordable housing remains a high priority for the organization," she said, "but the recent recession helped us realize the need for a more holistic approach to community development that empowers low-wealth families and communities to be the best that they can be."

In 2011, CommunityWorks reached an impressive milestone, becoming the Upstate's first and only certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI). The designation allows CWC to benefit from a national program that allocates federal resources for investment in certified CDFIs - building these organizations' capacities to assist low-income people and communities typically overlooked by traditional financial institutions.

And in October 2012 - one year after becoming a certified institution - CWC was selected as an award recipient of the program. Receiving $100,000, the group was one of only 210 CDFIs across the nation, and one of three in the state, to receive the special funding.

"While there are a number of facets and areas of service at the heart of CommunityWorks, our CDFI certification has allowed us to take our mission to the next level," McKetty said. "And in doing so, the programs we offer will continue to reflect our goal of helping make financial stability and security a long-term reality for those who need it most."

Earlier this year, CWC launched a micro-loan program, offering qualifying business owners between $5,000 and $15,000 to promote the development of start‐up and existing micro-enterprises, most of which are not able to obtain financing through a commercial financial institution. 

At the "community" level, the group offers bridge loans to provide short term financing to developers of affordable housing. The funds can be used to expedite project development or to reduce the cost of borrowing from a conventional lender, making projects more feasible.

And in addition to the growth in services and programs, CommunityWorks is seeing growth in another key area: geography. Once only focused on people and businesses in Greenville County, McKetty recently announced CWC will be providing some services in Anderson, Spartanburg and Pickens Counties, eventually expanding across the Upstate. One example is the business micro-loan program, which is open to residents in Greenville, Spartanburg and Anderson counties.

"Our goal is to collaborate with community and business partners to deliver innovative solutions that create economic opportunities for low-wealth residents throughout the region," McKetty said.

And as CommunityWorks Carolina remains dedicated in its mission of "Building People and Places," so will it continue to serve as a catalyst in supporting economic growth for families and communities in the Upstate - now and for years to come.

(All photos courtesy of CommunityWorks Carolina.)

James Richardson is a freelance writer and the publisher of the Travelers Rest Tribune. When he's not writing, James enjoys spending time outdoors with his wife and two children at any one of many places across the Upstate.