CommunityWorks’ Tammie Hoy Hawkins helps underserved people access financial services

CommunityWorks is perhaps the city’s best kept secret.

Tammie Hoy Hawkins intends to change that – just as the organization she runs changes the upstate, one person, one company, one organization at a time.

Greenville has a robust real estate market and dozens of financial institutions. But not all businesses, all potential owners, can access what they need through traditional resources. Some are completely ignored.

CommunityWorks aims to fill the gaps – as a lender.

“We’re a bank with a heart,” says Hawkins, who served as president and CEO of CommunityWorks for 15 months.

She laughs, conceding that bankers have hearts too. But CommunityWorks is more flexible.

“We are looking at the risk. We look at all of these things that a bank looks at. But in a lot of cases, we loan characters, ”says Hawkins.

“We ask: ‘have you traditionally paid your rent? “” Did you pay for important things? »Your credit score may be low. We understand. You have medical debt. You have school debt, ”she explains.

Founded in 2008, CommunityWorks’s mission is to help South Carolina‘s underserved families and communities build a better financial future.

The organization promotes financial stability by providing relatively small loans to start-ups and existing businesses, helping individuals and families who want to buy a home, and providing financial support to developers building affordable homes.

Coaching and other education programs promote healthy financial habits for those who receive a loan – and those who are trying to qualify for them.

In the background, Hawkins and his 18 staff members advocate for economic and social equity.

“We provide equitable access to capital and financial services that many people in our community cannot access through traditional means, especially people and communities of color who have been denied these resources in the past,” says Hawkins .

Many customers, about 63% African American and about 68% female, do not have traditional banking relationships. Others have had bad experiences with payday lenders.

“They have lost faith in the banking community, for reasons related to historical systemic issues,” says Hawkins.

For Hawkins, these problems are particularly striking. The only child of a single mother, Hawkins left her hometown of Indiana and headed south, where she passed through the College of Charleston.

An internship put her on the path to community development work and also highlighted the systemic and institutional barriers that create poverty. “It opened my eyes from a young age.

She says she was deeply troubled by the racism and segregation she perceived in the South. She even considered leaving.

“I thought I needed to go somewhere more liberal,” she says. “But I had a great mentor who said, ‘If people like you – who care about these issues, who care about changing the community – if you go, you give up the mission. “

Today, with 20 years of experience, she heads an organization that aims to break down barriers to financial equity.

But, Hawkins stresses, commercial banks are not the enemy.

“Our goal is to compliment financial institutions,” says Hawkins. “Instead of saying to a start-up entrepreneur, ‘No, we can’t help you,’ they can say, ‘Talk to our partner, CommunityWorks. “”

CommunityWorks is funded by loan fees and interest, like more traditional financial institutions, but also by investments, grants, and private donations – often from banks.

“The banks invest in us, so that we can do an about-face and lend to organizations or individuals who are too risky for the banks,” she said.

New programs are launched to meet the needs – PPP loans and COVID-19 relief efforts; the Women’s Business Center, open in June; and, most recently, the Neighborhood Small Business Initiative, a cooperative effort to support minority and women-owned businesses near Unity Park.

“Businesses run by women and, in particular, black women are the fastest growing companies right now,” says Hawkins.

Business loans are typically $ 5,000 to $ 250,000. A loan can start a business or be the last financing needed to complete a project.

“We work with people who say, ‘I have this great idea. How can I make it happen? ‘ Hawkins calls them “from the back of the towel ideas.”

“They’re the ones who sit down with the coaches,” she said. “If you access credit with us, you have a coach forever. “

For homebuyers, CommunityWorks can provide loans from $ 4,000 to $ 5,000 – usually for part of a down payment or for a mortgage fee from a traditional lender.

A builder or renovator or an organization working on affordable housing can borrow up to $ 750,000.

“I am very passionate about creating access to housing opportunities,” says Hawkins. “I always say, ‘Jobs are coming home somewhere to spend the night.’ And where they get home matters.

The person who serves tables downtown, mows lawns or works behind a coffee counter cannot necessarily afford to live near their job.

“Affordable is relative, and there is a stigma surrounding affordable housing. It’s for ‘these’ people. In many cases, talking about “these” people can be very discriminatory, “she says.

“Reality is me. I grew up in an HLM. My mother worked, but she worked as a waitress. So what was affordable for her is very different from what is affordable for a business executive.

The CommunityWorks Women's Business Center opened in June.

Change begins with the political will to change, she said.

“It’s important to say, ‘We care about everyone in our community. We want to make sure they have safe, quality housing choices, ”says Hawkins. “This is number 1”.

CommunityWorks has generated more than $ 221 million in economic impact locally and has helped 6,000 families, according to the nonprofit organization’s website. It has loaned $ 5 million to small businesses and $ 10 million to affordable housing projects that have created or preserved approximately 1,300 housing units.

“If we’re going to have a better South Carolina and a better Greenville, we need to provide opportunities for everyone, whether it’s affordable housing choices or access to small businesses,” says Hawkins.

Married to lawyer John Hawkins (of “HawkLaw” fame) – CommunityWorks CEO says she gets a fair amount of teasing at home.

“My husband said, ‘You’re going to push the rock up the hill again today, aren’t you? “”

She proudly wears the mantle: “One house, one person, one business at a time, just push it up the hill.”

“I come to work every day knowing that we are creating economic justice and economic opportunity for everyone. This is what I wake up to thinking every morning.

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