2020 AT A GLANCE
Newburgh Housing Study Pivots to Remote Community Engagement
The Leviticus Fund knew from the onset the critical role of community engagement in creating a housing report that offered the maximum benefit to residents, community-stakeholders and city officials in Newburgh, New York. Our work continued in 2020 – despite the challenges of the pandemic – with less in-person roundtables, more telephone and Zoom calls, and dual language surveys.
In early 2020, we focused on developing a workplan that was guided by earlier community listening sessions which identified how the city’s housing needs were intertwined in economic development-related concerns. We were mindful too of the importance of immersing ourselves into the multi-faceted reality of Newburgh, and creating a final report that provided strategies for policy implementation.
Our work benefitted greatly from the expertise and creativity of our consultants, Kevin Dwarka LLC and Pace Land Use Law Center, to conduct extensive analysis of demographic, housing and fiscal data that revealed: (i) the extent of high housing cost burdens for renters and homeowners; (ii) the severe racial disparities in homeownership levels; (iii) lingering concerns over the age, quality and occupancy of the housing stock; and (iv) worries about rising residential property taxes.
Our Newburgh study was also enhanced by strong community-level cooperation. Newburgh’s Planning Department and elected officials provided critical information on specific initiatives it had already undertaken, and the effect of those efforts on the affordability, accessibility, and quality of the city’s housing inventory and overall economic vitality. The Leviticus Fund is a member of the Newburgh Housing Coalition, which also played an active role. Coalition members offered ongoing feedback based on their own work in the city and their experiences as Newburgh residents.
What emerged from this effort are five policy theme priorities: (i) housing conditions; (ii) affordability; (iii) housing development; (iv) neighborhood stabilization; and (v) economic development. The report, which is being funded by the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, will be released in May of 2021.
Lending in a Storm
I began my career as a lender during a period of economic disruption. It was the early 1980s, and the Prime Rate reached 13%. Twenty years later, I helped CDFIs “weather the storm” of the Mortgage Crisis that started in 2008. Now, a generation later, community development lenders like the Leviticus Fund faced a new “storm” brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Its impact was slow-moving initially, as we watched a gradual climb in unemployment rates and a steady decline in economic productivity. As the pandemic progressed and more cities closed down, many real estate developers experienced significant uncertainty in our market: the declining availability of public subsidy programs essential to the success of community development projects.
The lending team at the Leviticus Fund continued to meet market needs despite these challenges. We carefully reviewed our portfolio of existing loans and contacted borrowers we suspected might be experiencing COVID-related financial troubles. Fortunately, these organizations were resilient and utilized stimulus payments and other public support to maintain their operations. Furthermore, we continued to pursue lending opportunities and approved a record number of loan commitments by the end of 2020.
The effects of physical distancing and increased availability of COVID vaccines are helping to fuel the economic recovery. As a result, Leviticus is looking forward to continuing to work with our borrowers as they address any lingering financial challenges. And we will continue to pursue new prospects for creating positive social impacts in the communities we serve.
– Kevin McQueen, Director of Lending
Introducing the Legacy Fund
The year was 1983: 38 years ago. Pope John Paul II visited Haiti in March and decried “the injustice, the excessive inequality, the degradation of the quality of life, the misery, the hunger, the fear” under President “Baby Doc” Duvalier. On June 18, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space on the Shuttle Challenger. Tootsie was a big hit in movie theaters and Cabbage Patch Kids dolls were all the rage for Christmas shoppers.
But without any fanfare, something deeply significant happened in 1983.
In May of that year, 27 religious communities invested $360,000 in capital to form the Leviticus 25:23 Alternative Fund. By pooling their resources, they knew they could do more for those with less. They prepared the way for Leviticus to begin its life-changing work and have continued to support our efforts ever since.
In 2020, several of the founding members of the Leviticus Fund invited early supporters to convert their investments to donations and in so doing, create The Legacy Fund.
The Legacy Fund is a permanently restricted fund to be used exclusively for lending capital. Unlike traditional grants, this gift will never be “spent down” – but will keep revolving into communities in need. Through donations to the Legacy Fund, Leviticus’ members will continue to relieve poverty and suffering by investing in community-identified efforts that foster social, economic, environmental, and racial justice.
Following a soft launch in early 2021, we are pleased to announce that five member communities have donated their subventions. These visionary leaders will retain their member status in the Leviticus Fund while permanently entrusting us as stewards of their resources. We are deeply grateful for their support. The Legacy Fund will continue to rollout in 2021.
Celebrating a year of
There are many lasting memories from 2020. We chose to embrace the power behind the images that you see below. In the spaces that the pandemic filled with fear and uncertainty, we witnessed individuals and communities empowering each other – building resiliency – by organizing peaceful protests, by setting up food and school supply drives, and by promoting awareness and access to COVID testing, as a few examples.
We are getting through this pandemic because we are reminded that we are always stronger together. And Leviticus came through the year stronger too because of the steadfast support of our investors, donors and community partners. The consistency of that support enabled us to stretch our financial resources and human capital even further to support Leviticus’ mission and to continue to serve the nonprofits and communities that inspire us each day.
We thank the following organizations for generously providing the images included in this report: Fortune Society, Legion of Good Will U.S., Seabury Housing Cooperative, Southern Tier Environments for Living, and Westhab.