Monday, February 25, 2013

Hope Enterprise Corporation: Building Financial Wealth in the Mississippi Delta Region

This blog is part of our 35th Anniversary Celebration series, highlighting NeighborWorks member organizations which are celebrating milestone years marking either their membership in the network or their incorporation as an organization.

By Brittany Hutson, NeighborWorks
America Public Relations fellow

This year, Hope Enterprise Corporation (HOPE), a community development financial institution (CDFI), marks 20 years of providing support and assistance for small business owners and homeowners in economically distressed areas of Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Based in Jackson, Mississippi, HOPE has grown from providing financing and technical assistance to small business owners to investing in other focus areas such as housing, healthcare, and community development. In 2002, HOPE further expanded the scope of their services by becoming the primary sponsor of Hope Credit Union.

Hope Credit Union was organized in 1995 by members of Anderson United Methodist Church to provide access to financial services to low-income residents in Jackson, Mississippi. Nearly two years ago, Bancorp South, the largest bank in Mississippi announced plans to close 23 branches. Nine of those were in communities where Bancorp South was the only bank.  According to Executive Director William Bynum, “It left a lot of families without access to financial services.”  Utica, a small rural town near Jackson, Mississippi, was particularly affected by the bank closures; so, local leaders invited the Hope Credit Union to establish a local branch that would be run by Utica residents.  According to Bynum, similar bank deserts have emerged throughout the Mississippi Delta region. “Opening that branch [in Utica] addressed a critical need for that community,” he says. “[We were] able to work with [them] and help them recover and essentially create their own financial institution.” The credit union offers business and mortgage lending, as well as basic financial services.

A housewarming celebration for the first two families moving into
homes in the new Radiant Blossoms development in New Orleans
HOPE and Hope Credit Union have also been resources for victims of Hurricane Katrina. Those affected had access to services like small business and housing recovery, and could open accounts to receive recovery funds.  In the wake of the disaster, HOPE joined with NeighborWorks and other collaborators to create Home Again, a home rebuilding effort. HOPE and NeighborWorks also partnered to develop a financial curriculum to help homeowners on the Gulf Coast develop recovery plans. “People needed help navigating all the confusion,” says Bynum.  “We counseled about 10,000 people who received roughly $600 million for housing recovery needs.”

Bynum is proud that HOPE has been able to help people respond to devastating events like Hurricane Katrina and the recent economic downturn. “We’ve been able to survive, navigate, and provide services to thousands of people; it’s a great feeling.” Part of their ability to survive and expand is due to their interest in partnerships, like NeighborWorks. “NeighborWorks has been at the front of the line as a critical partner by providing capital and technical support,” says Bynum. “They are proactive and creative, and have been wonderful to work with.”

Learn more about HOPE at