“We take downtown expertise that is typically used to generate income for upper and middle income folks, and apply it to lower income communities.” – Elyse Cherry
Boston Community Capital launched with just $3,500 in seed capital. Starting out by lending money for affordable housing, the total invested dollars had grown to $30m by the point Elyse, who had been a member of the founding board, joined full time to run the organization.
Since then, growth has been rapid and dramatic. Boston Community Capital has directly invested $1bn – and leveraged an additional $6bn – in low income communities. BCC has expanded nationally, and now offers a host of programs and services, including:
- Affordable housing and community development loans
- Foreclosure relief
- Venture funds investing in double bottom line companies
- A national tax credit practice
- Solar power investments
- Public policy and civic leadership
- Sustainability initiatives
The organization’s core competency is structuring financial transactions to fund projects that improve communities. Elyse describes the team as a group of people who “see money differently,” who have an understanding of finance, and who use those skills to make impactful projects possible.
A Day in the Life
Elyse has deliberately created a culture where people can bring their whole selves to work, and where work and life can be integrated. Employees are encouraged to volunteer and serve on the boards of other nonprofits, and have the ability to work flexible hours if they have family responsibilities. Elyse explained that “everything is integrated”, and “our mission is to make the world better, and all of these activities help.” BCC has gone so far as to write these policies into their strategic plan.
Elyse’s schedule and day-to-day changes frequently, but some of her current priorities include meeting with mayors in New Jersey to help publicize Boston Community Capital’s foreclosure services, generating new ideas for services and assessing the market, as well as policy and advocacy work.
“If you don’t push hard on [technology], you lose efficiency,” Elyse shared. Boston Community Capital has standardized its computing platforms, and has all equipment on a standard 3-year refresh cycle. They have moved much of their data and storage to the cloud, and have invested in technologies to allow team members to work from anywhere, if needed.
Most Successful Projects
When asked about recent successes, Elyse talked about the SUN (Stabilizing Urban Neighborhoods) program, which works with families to prevent foreclosures. The initiative, which was just an idea a few short years ago, has now seen $120 m in lending across 5 states, and has helped hundreds of families.
Additionally, Boston Community Capital is making investments in solar panels for electrical power, leveraging state tax credits and grants. They work with affordable housing developments to finance, install, and operate the solar panels, reducing environmental strain and operating costs for the building.
As is likely becoming apparent, Boston Community Capital blurs the traditional lines between the “nonprofit” and “for-profit” worlds. When I asked Elyse about how she thinks about these two areas, her response was “A critical difference between a for-profit and a nonprofit is where the retained earnings go. For a nonprofit, the earnings go back into the mission instead of to shareholders.”
For Elyse, there are a number of proudest moments. She shared that she is “enormously proud of the commitment and the drive and the expertise of our staff. There isn’t a person here that doesn’t have their shoulder to the wheel…We can’t have the growth curve that we have unless we have a team that is running in the same direction…Crossing the billion-dollar mark was a great moment, getting SUN up was a great moment, but the sense of wanting to stay on our own cutting edge, building a culture that supports innovation and effectiveness, that’s the thing that I’m proudest of.”
“This is the most interesting, creative, rewarding work I’ve ever done.”