Rebuilding No Matter What

Wayne MeyerWayne Meyer is being honored as a Champion of Change for the leadership he demonstrated in his involvement in response and recovery efforts following Hurricane Sandy.

When I became President at New Jersey Community Capital in 2009, New Jersey was already waist-deep in a crisis. 

The state was among the hardest hit by the wave of foreclosures that has crossed the nation, and its low-income communities bore the brunt of it.  In its largest city of Newark, over 60 percent of homeowners with a mortgage were underwater as of September 2012, and 18 percent of its housing units are now vacant.  A drive through Newark—or Paterson or Trenton or south Jersey City—still reveals blocks strewn with foreclosed and abandoned homes.

NJCC is the largest Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) in New Jersey, and our unique blend of financial capacity (over $225 million in assets under management) and commitment to social change has allowed us to become leaders in the foreclosure crisis recovery.  Over the last four years, our team has pioneered innovative models to reclaim and rebuild vacant properties, to provide long-term financing for affordable housing redevelopment, and to employ principal reductions to rescue distressed homeowners.  These strategies will provide new opportunities to hundreds of hard-hit families and will help return their neighborhoods to stability.

Without really realizing it, we were also preparing ourselves for our next great challenge.

In October of 2012, another crisis struck New Jersey.  Hurricane Sandy devastated shore communities, displacing families and businesses and leaving over $36 billion in damages.  The disaster required a response that was at once immediate and durable, and our experience in the trenches of the foreclosure crisis was what equipped us to provide such a response.  We quickly arranged meetings with investors, public officials, and community partners and asked:  what are the gaps that need to be filled without delay?  Who is available to help?  How can we support those in need as efficiently and responsibly as possible?

Within a month, we had raised $3 million dollars and launched our REBUILD New Jersey fund to provide disaster loans to impacted small businesses.  Some of these loans repaired damages or restored lost inventory, while others helped cover income lost during the weeks of power outages and closures.  With each loan, we not only helped the owners and employees maintain their livelihoods; we also helped to turn another light on in Asbury Park or Jersey City, sending another symbol to the surrounding communities that the road to recovery was underway.

That road is still a long one, however, and we remain equipped to move the recovery forward in new ways.  In the coming months and years, we will use the housing strategies we honed via the foreclosure recovery to rebuild homes damaged in Sandy.  Our real estate acquisition arm, CAPC, will seek to purchase pools of properties for restoration.   Our low-cost loans will finance community builders in shore areas as they provide new housing.  And through our mortgage resolution program, ReStart, we will seek to buy and resolve nonperforming mortgages in impacted areas.

These strategies require the partnership of private companies, local nonprofits and civic groups, and all levels of government.  As a CDFI, we have the capacity, relationships, and mission to bring these groups together for the cause of rebuilding post-crisis communities, whether they are recovering from a financial crisis or a natural one.

On behalf of the team at NJCC and our partners in this challenging work, we are honored to be chosen a White House Champion of Change and grateful that our work is being recognized.

Wayne Meyer is President of New Jersey Community Capital (NJCC).

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