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Cascade: No. 89, Fall 2015

The Reinvestment Fund at 30: Insights and New Directions*

Thirty years ago, a small group of community developers, activists, and business people formed a community loan fund in Philadelphia called the Delaware Valley Community Reinvestment Fund. In 1999, the organization was renamed The Reinvestment Fund (TRF). TRF is certified as a community development financial institution (CDFI) by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s CDFI Fund. Since 1985, TRF has made $1.5 billion in loans and investments and has financed housing, community facilities, supermarkets, commercial real estate, and energy-efficiency projects. The CDFI has been a leader in analyzing data and markets and in participating in regional and national policy discussions. To mark the organization’s 30th anniversary, Cascade asked TRF to share insights from its experiences, explain the new directions in which the organization is headed, discuss best practices in impact measurement, and comment on the equity implications of its work.

1. What insights and recommendations can TRF share from its lending, real estate development, research, and advocacy work?

The Reinvestment Fund (TRF) is now entering its fourth decade with a focus on integrating data, policy, and strategic investments to revitalize communities and improve people’s lives throughout the country. TRF believes that this requires organizing people, capacity, data, and capital. Although it is not necessary for all these elements to be present in each project, TRF increasingly finds that much of its work brings all these elements together.

In Baltimore, TRF has worked with Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD) since 2006 to reverse the tide of rapid decline in Oliver, a low-income neighborhood in East Baltimore adjacent to Johns Hopkins Medical Campus. TRF first engaged community residents in developing a neighborhood revitalization plan. Local residents surveyed the conditions of every neighborhood parcel, including more than 1,100 abandoned buildings and vacant lots, which had become magnets for drug trafficking and other criminal activity. Their findings became part of the data analysis in the final neighborhood plan, which uses a “build from strength” investment strategy. Through the strategy, investments are made in distressed areas that are near regional assets, such as universities, hospitals, employment cores, or transportation hubs, and the existing asset is leveraged.

TRF and BUILD partnered to create TRF Development Partners (TRF DP), TRF’s real estate development affiliate, to implement the plan. In East Baltimore, there was no existing capacity to develop housing — no developers were investing in the market to build homes. Creating TRF DP was an effort to reverse that trend. Working with BUILD, TRF organized $10 million in capital from more than 20 institutional investors to fund the development effort. TRF DP has leveraged the initial capital pool to invest $55 million in housing development in East Baltimore. Vacancy dropped from 40 percent a decade ago to 8 percent today.1 TRF has learned that increasing housing occupancy in a deteriorated area sends a clear positive market signal that stimulates greater reinvestment. Today, most new building permits for work above $25,000 in the area are from private investors. The development in East Baltimore was achieved without displacing any local families.

Wissahickon Charter SchoolWissahickon Charter School is a high-performing Philadelphia school that focuses on the environment as an integrating theme for K–8 instruction. In 2014, with TRF financing, the school opened the doors on its second campus, expanding to serve 478 students, increasing the school’s total enrollment to 956 students. The new facility is adjacent to the 55-acre Awbury Arboretum, which functions as an outdoor classroom. TRF has worked with the school since 2002 and was its first lender.
Photo Credit: Wissahickon Charter School

TRF also has learned that employment is necessary for neighborhood stability; therefore, TRF DP has tailored its construction process to accommodate smaller, local contractors. Seventy percent of TRF DP’s construction projects in East Baltimore use local firms, and 50 percent of those firms are minority owned. Today, median household incomes for families moving into the area have risen 64 percent, and home sales prices for newly renovated units are 256 percent higher. TRF DP and BUILD have worked to retain long-term residents while also attracting new families to the area. This effort has increased the neighborhood’s income integration. As TRF continues its efforts in East Baltimore, it plans to seek more investments from banks and other institutional investors.

Camden Price RiteIn Camden, NJ, TRF financing supported the opening of the city’s first new supermarket in decades. The new store replaced a store that was closed for more than a year and created more than 80 jobs (some part time), many going to local residents. The project restored healthy food access to the surrounding underserved community by providing a full selection of fresh fruits and vegetables along with seafood, meats, dairy, and other grocery products.
Photo Credit: The Reinvestment Fund

Access to healthy food is another area of TRF’s work that brings together people, capacity, data, and capital. In Pennsylvania, TRF was part of a group of leaders and experts from state and local governments, the supermarket industry, and the civic sector who offered recommendations for improving the availability of affordable, nutritious food in underserved areas in the state. The group quickly identified financing as a barrier to helping grocers locate to neighborhoods with inadequate access to fresh, healthy food. To address this challenge, TRF partnered with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Food Trust, and the Urban Affairs Coalition to create the Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative (FFFI) in 2004. TRF led the task of organizing capital for the initiative, using a seed grant of $30 million from the Commonwealth to leverage $145 million in additional investments for loans and grants for predevelopment, acquisition, and equipment and construction costs, as well as start-up costs, such as employee recruitment and training. Over a six-year period, the FFFI financed 88 projects, resulting in more than 5,000 jobs and improving healthy food access for 400,000 Pennsylvania residents. Building on the knowledge and experience gained from the FFFI, TRF established the New Jersey Food Access Initiative (NJFAI) with capital from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, Living Cities, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Working with the NJFAI, TRF has provided more than $22 million in financing for 20 healthy food access projects in the past four years alone.

An important aspect of TRF’s achievements in this sector is its commitment to data-advised decisions. TRF has produced 10 studies on food access subjects, including financing mechanisms, program design, and food systems. TRF’s Limited Supermarket Access (LSA) analysis is devoted to understanding access to healthy, fresh food, particularly in low-income areas. The analytical tool quantifies disparate levels of food access and estimates the dollar amount that area residents spend outside their communities. TRF uses this tool to assist supermarket operators and potential investors to identify locations where local demand would support a new full-service store.

2. In what new directions will TRF be taking its work?

A key element of TRF’s growth is taking its experience and expertise to other communities in need across the country. TRF believes that there is a real opportunity to help create transformational change in low-income communities beyond TRF’s traditional service area in the Mid-Atlantic, which encompasses New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. The organization has already seen this through its healthy food work. For example, community development organizations, public officials, and community groups located outside TRF’s Mid-Atlantic states have asked for the organization’s help to increase access to healthy food in their own communities.

These requests for assistance were the impetus behind TRF’s decision in January 2014 to create ReFresh, a national network of practitioners engaged in improving healthy food access across the U.S. With funding from the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, TRF supported an inaugural group of community development financial institutions (CDFIs) from California, Colorado, Florida, and Ohio with data and capacity-building assistance as they worked to launch or expand healthy food financing programs in their service areas. Since then, TRF has welcomed several new CDFI members to the ReFresh initiative, including most recently the First Nations Oweesta Corporation.2 In addition, TRF plans to use the ReFresh platform to learn about and share innovations and trends from across the country. For example, several opportunities are emerging that connect supermarkets and grocery store development with strategies that increase population and community health and increase consumer demand for healthier food options. Supermarket operators are hiring dieticians to work in their stores or are partnering with community groups to offer nutrition education and cooking demonstration classes to their customers. In addition, federally qualified health centers are locating in supermarkets and collaborating on health and wellness programs. As TRF works with a network of healthy food providers across the country, it will be seeking additional capital investments to support this work.

Kinder AcademyKinder Academy is an early childhood education provider that prides itself on being a developmental partner with its students and their parents in order to comprehensively prepare children for kindergarten and beyond. TRF financing, in partnership with the CDFI Fund, is helping the high-quality provider expand to a fourth facility in Philadelphia. The new center will serve 130 children and create 25 jobs.
Photo Credit: Kinder Academy

Another priority over the next five years is increasing TRF’s impact on communities through a dual approach of data analysis and capital deployment. For example, TRF is working to improve access to high-quality early childhood education (ECE) in Philadelphia in partnership with the William Penn Foundation and the Public Health Management Corporation (PHMC). Philadelphia has only 169 high-quality ECE providers (defined as Keystone STAR 3 and 4 operators) out of almost 3,000 providers across the city, which means there are significant gaps in the availability of quality services to low-income children. Given the enormous benefits of high-quality ECE experiences, including improved outcomes and school readiness for young children, Philadelphia needed a transformative initiative to expand services. As part of its effort to understand the gaps, the William Penn Foundation made a grant to TRF to develop comprehensive information about the availability of high-quality ECE in Philadelphia. TRF’s analysis is accessible through Childcare Map,3 an interactive tool that helps identify the neighborhoods where high-quality care is most scarce and where investments are most needed. With $4.5 million from the William Penn Foundation and additional capital from TRF’s network of more than 850 investors, Philadelphia now boasts a $7.6 million fund to support planning efforts and capital awards as part of the initiative. Child-care providers used the Childcare Map tool to identify gaps and expansion opportunities. In turn, the analysis helped TRF and the PHMC select award recipients and target resources and capital. In its first year, the fund selected 14 high-quality ECE providers to receive awards that are to be used for renovating existing facilities and opening new ones. The awards are expected to help serve an additional 850 children across the city.

Pay for success (PFS) programs are an emerging model that uses data and capital to effect change. Within PFS programs, success is based on the outcomes of specific human service interventions. Predetermined social impact data thus become the means by which investment returns are measured. In 2014, TRF participated in the nation’s first county‐level PFS program, which brought together Cuyahoga County in Ohio and FrontLine Service, a leading provider of comprehensive continuum of care services for homeless persons in Ohio. TRF’s participation in this PFS program builds on its extensive experience financing affordable housing and community services. TRF also draws on its strong expertise in analyzing housing policy issues and, especially, inequities related to low‐income and vulnerable populations. This summer, TRF closed on its second PFS project, which aims to reduce chronic homelessness in Santa Clara County through permanent supportive housing. It is California’s first PFS project, and it brings together a diverse set of partners.

TRF is currently seeking a range of partners and conventional financial institutions to participate in a dialogue on PFS programs and to attract additional resources to this new social impact financing mechanism. Over the next five years, TRF will carefully assess the results of PFS programs, with the hope of replicating the model in other policy areas, including housing, education, social services, and health care.

Another priority for TRF is to continue to lead efforts to promote the social, economic, and physical health of low‐income and vulnerable populations. TRF recognizes that strong, healthy communities are marked by far more than quality housing and accessible real estate markets. TRF’s goal is to scale proven interventions nationwide (for example, TRF’s work in financing healthy food access and community health centers) and seed innovation arising from locally identified collaborative efforts. The unsustainable costs of health care and the significant federal and state policy reforms that seek to address the problem equitably point to a conclusion: Urgent action must be taken to address the social determinants of health.4 Reversing declines in health, especially in low-income communities, can be achieved only through the combined efforts of the community development and health-care sectors.

TRF is well positioned to play a leadership role in improving certain social determinants of health: TRF finances housing, grocery stores, schools and early childhood education centers, community health clinics, and sustainable energy projects — all of which are simultaneously markers and catalysts of community health. TRF is part of a five‐year national initiative with the Kresge Foundation and the Public Health Institute (PHI) to align the resources of health and community development stakeholders. In selected communities across the nation, TRF is designing investment portfolios balanced across sectors to facilitate comprehensive health improvement strategies. The initiative, which is focusing resources in neighborhoods where both health and social inequities are concentrated, expects to build a field of practice that provides the tools, evidence, and models to support replication across the country.

3. What does TRF consider best practices on impact measurement? How can CDFIs and community development corporations (CDCs) that have funding and staffing constraints measure impact?

Almost 16 years ago, TRF formed a dedicated department, Policy Solutions, which monitors community outcomes, assesses impact, and researches policy-relevant issues central to TRF’s mission. Policy Solutions does this work not only for TRF but also increasingly for a wide range of clients from the federal government and cities to foundations and civic organizations. Policy Solutions’ work has helped mold TRF as an information intermediary as much as it is a capital intermediary.

PolicyMap is the online tool TRF uses to access and share data and analyses. TRF also uses the platform to understand the impact of TRF’s work in context. TRF geocodes each of its investments and loads them into the PolicyMap platform. Using PolicyMap’s 37,000 data indicators, TRF monitors community trends over time. For example, TRF monitors healthy food access investments against its own LSA analysis, along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Access Research Atlas. Through PolicyMap, TRF can plot areas (census block groups and tracts) with low access to healthy food, view the number of limited-service grocery stores, and estimate local grocery demand.

An important aspect of impact measurement is transparency. Making TRF’s investment data accessible on PolicyMap is one way to achieve that. Another element of transparency is sharing the methodology TRF uses for its proprietary analytics, whether it is the LSA or TRF’s Market Value Analysis (MVA) real estate investment tool. TRF makes its methodology available with every study that it completes.

As CDFIs work to effect positive change in low-income communities, it is also good practice to look at changes over time. TRF has a strong focus on place and, in many neighborhoods, has been able to invest in multiple projects over several years.

For example, TRF is currently assessing the impact of its residential real estate activity on East Baltimore’s Oliver neighborhood. Beginning in 2013, TRF has been using a variety of research methods to study the neighborhood. These methods include a quantitative analysis of indicators used in the MVA, the use of U.S. Census Bureau data to gauge trends in the demographic composition of residents and employees, and the gathering of qualitative data (e.g., through a resident survey). Additionally, TRF conducted a review of home sales and building permits within TRF DP’s primary area of influence in the neighborhood between 2006 and 2014. Specifically, TRF is exploring home purchases by individuals and investors to determine how the sales market has changed within this area in the years since TRF DP started its work. Preliminary analysis suggests that through its work, TRF DP has contributed to the establishment of a rehab housing market with a share of the sales at prices far above levels seen before its involvement.

Similarly, with the recent update to the LSA analysis, TRF has applied the LSA methodology in years going back to 2005 as a way to understand changes in access over time. Philadelphia was one of the areas TRF examined in depth. According to TRF’s analysis,5 133,019 people in Philadelphia lived in areas without easy access to healthy options in 2013, a decrease of 56 percent from 2005, when 301,397 people struggled to find healthy foods in their neighborhoods. TRF’s study also revealed that TRF-financed retail grocers in Philadelphia are the nearest option for nearly 187,000 people. By locating in or near LSA areas, TRF-financed stores decreased potential LSA populations by 67,000, with substantial decreases seen in West and North Philadelphia.

Collecting and analyzing data enable the more strategic deployment of scarce resources in ways that can maximize impact. For example, in New Jersey, with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, TRF worked with potential borrowers to determine the likelihood that low-income residents will use new grocery stores in underserved areas. Using a Huff retail model,6 TRF was able to estimate the potential customer base location. While the LSA finds areas of inequitable access, the Huff model measures the likelihood that LSA residents will shop at a proposed store, looking at factors such as store distance and the presence and size of competing stores.

While TRF has been fortunate to have the internal capacity to do its own data analysis and impact assessment, it realizes that many smaller CDFIs and CDCs may not have the resources to do this. But there may be different ways to approach impact assessment, given resource limitations. One barrier that has been lowered significantly over the past few years is the cost of technology and access to public data. Technological advancements have made it easier to access and use data in illustrative, robust ways. From online survey tools to platforms such as PolicyMap that provide free access to public data and the ability to spatially analyze data quickly, technology is becoming easier to use at a reasonable cost. For a small CDFI or CDC, these technological advancements can offer a path to understanding impact without incurring large resource burdens.

Another way in which impact can be assessed is through partnerships with educational institutions. Increasingly, smaller organizations are building relationships with academic institutions to assess impact in the communities they serve.

Finally, TRF thinks it would greatly benefit the CDFI industry as a whole if a centralized, standardized data collection platform was created and maintained. While CDFIs currently submit outcomes data to the CDFI Fund as part of the Community Investment Impact System (CIIS) reporting, the process is annual and the data requirements vary significantly. For example, North American Industry Classification System (NAICS)7 codes are currently mandatory for business loans in CIIS, but not for all other loan types. TRF’s real estate portfolio is not required to report industry codes, but TRF chooses to do so because it collects that information for internal analysis. Real estate transactions from other CDFIs typically do not include industry codes, so there is little indication as to how the loan provides services. This makes it difficult to analyze the data to understand impact. The development of a single, standardized nationwide database with spatial, financial, and social attributes of CDFI investments would create an effective platform for research and impact assessment.

Another benefit of such a system is that it would make expansion into new business lines easier. CDFIs are very diverse. Some are primarily focused on small business lending, while others have experiences in a variety of other sectors. For a CDFI that may be exploring a new business line, the ability to learn from the data captured by other CDFIs that have been working in that area could be beneficial, and the exchange of data would allow the CDFI to learn from the past experiences of other organizations.

4. How do CDFIs such as TRF build equity in low-income communities?

TRF complements its lending with a data and analytical approach designed to identify where inequities exist. For example, TRF’s LSA analysis identifies areas with inequitable and inadequate access to healthy food as compared with well-served areas. This analysis is then harnessed for program delivery and strategic investment to address the inequities of access.

Similarly, TRF understands that the single greatest asset of many households — especially those with lower incomes — is a home. To this end, TRF has supported and promoted equitable housing practices for decades through TRF’s lending, policy, and real estate development work. A recent example is TRF’s work in Mount Holly, NJ. This is a community in which citizens alleged discriminatory housing practices after 300 homes were demolished in an effort to create new construction of market-rate housing. Those who were displaced were primarily low-income and minority residents. In 2013, the township contracted with TRF DP to help create a plan for a 44-home subdivision that includes 20 replacement units, which will ensure an integrated, mixed-income community. The first 26 units of affordable and market-rate housing will begin construction this year.

Through its policy analysis, TRF has worked to understand the dynamics that undermine the value of a home. For example, TRF’s foreclosure research and analysis are designed to help understand its driving forces in an effort to curtail the impact on people of modest means and the communities in which they live. In Pennsylvania, TRF’s analysis played a critical role in helping a group of housing advocates revive the state’s widely successful Homeowners’ Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program — better known as HEMAP. The popular program, launched in 1983 and managed by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, has saved thousands of homeowners from losing their homes to foreclosure. But despite its track record and impact, funding was eliminated in July 2011 and homeowners lost a significant resource to help them stay in their homes. Almost immediately after HEMAP was cut, housing advocates collaborated to make the case to reinstate it. They turned to TRF to develop a data-driven report that could demonstrate HEMAP’s significant impact across the state. TRF’s analysis was influential, showing the benefits and impact of HEMAP and the costs of foreclosure to homeowners, lenders, state revenues, and the wider economy. The case was so strong that it served as the catalyst to help persuade state officials to fund and restart HEMAP using Pennsylvania’s proceeds from the national mortgage servicer settlement. After a year of dormancy, HEMAP was restarted in mid-2012.

Although TRF has made strides in increasing access to affordable housing, quality education, healthy food, and health care in several communities over the past 30 years, many low-income families across America continue to face economic and social hardship. There is great need for work like TRF’s and an even greater urgency for more thoughtful and strategic ways to maximize impact for low-income communities.

  • * The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia or the Federal Reserve System.
  • 1 See The Reinvestment Fund, 30 Years: Celebrating 30 Years of Impact, 2015, available at http://ow.ly/RhCac. External Link
  • 2 First Nations Oweesta Corporation supports economic growth in Native American communities through the creation, development, and capitalization of CDFIs. For information, see http://www.oweesta.org/. External Link
  • 3 See http://www.trfund.com/childcaremap/. External Link
  • 4 For more information on social determinants of health, see the World Health Organization’s resources, which are available at www.who.int/social_determinants/en/. External Link
  • 5 See The Reinvestment Fund, 2014 Analysis of Limited Supermarket Access, available at http://ow.ly/StPaj. External Link
  • 6 The Huff retail model is a way to calculate the probability that a resident in a given location (census block) will shop at a particular store based upon (1) distance traveled to a store on a road network and (2) store square footage. The basis of this methodology is the work of Dr. David L. Huff and is described in his article “A Probabilistic Analysis of Shoppinf Center Trade Areas,” which is available at http://www.jstor.org/stable/3144521. External Link
  • 7 See www.census.gov/eos/www/naics/. External Link