“We knew that we wanted to expand. We felt like this was an opportunity to do that, and it’s proven itself. Now we’re out of space and are going to have to add an additional building onto this one.” -James Stroud
James Stroud has a lot he wants to accomplish.
“You should see my vision board over here,” he says, referring to the charts on a wall in his Hillsborough office. “It’s really wild.”
The executive director of the Centre for Homeownership & Economic Development Corporation (CHOEDC) since the nonprofit started in 2004, Stroud spends a lot of his time dreaming up big plans to help future homeowners and entrepreneurs across the Triangle and northern piedmont.
“I feel like we’re really bringing something to the community,” he says. Stroud leads a staff of 13 others who provide everything from homebuyer counseling to rental assistance to small business incubator space. CHOEDC serves between 1,700 and 2,000 people each year. The organization is able to help more people today thanks to a partnership that enabled CHOEDC to buy a 3,600-square-foot building in Granville County—something Stroud likens to knocking over a row of dominoes.
“It’s going to open up a lot of opportunities,” he says as he turns back toward his vision board.
The Centre started its work at a much smaller scale.
It began in 2004, well before the housing crisis, with small homebuyer education classes offered at churches and public libraries. “It turned into a situation where the need was so great and we didn’t realize how great it was,” Stroud recalls. “A lot of people didn’t have the knowledge of home ownership. They started coming to our classes and it got so huge until we had to do something.”
When the economy tanked in 2008, the Centre’s work became even more vital. CHOEDC added mortgage default counseling services. Then, as the engines of recovery started to crank up a few years later, the organization added more to its mission: services for entrepreneurs trying to get their ventures off and running. “We’re now heavily involved in working with small business owners, training them, teaching them how to become entrepreneurs,” Stroud says.
As its program of work expanded, so did the nonprofit’s physical needs. CHOEDC wanted to purchase a building in Granville County to house programming, along with a small business incubator to help early-stage companies. That’s when Stroud turned to North State Bank.
He met with Sharon Moe, a senior vice president and Raleigh market president for North State Bank, who told him about the Loan Participation Program (LPP), a fund created initially by the U.S. Treasury Department through its State’s Small Business Credit Initiative, and managed by the NC Rural Center in all 100 North Carolina counties. It’s designed to increase access to capital for small companies in the state that have funding challenges. Through LPP, the Rural Center buys participations in loans issued by banks or Community Development Financial Institutions, in effect mitigating some of the risk involved and allowing the lender to make loans that need support. The Rural Center has partnered on more than 350 LPP loans with 22 different lenders located throughout the state of North Carolina. The program matched well against the CHOEDC’s goals and North State’s ability to lend.
The bank was able to offer the Centre a larger loan than otherwise would have been available. “Normally, we would only have been able to lend up to 85 percent,” Moe says. That difference was significant. “Since the Centre is a nonprofit, it was of utmost importance to them to put as little down on this purchase as possible, keeping their liquidity available for programming.”
After a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the new property, CHOEDC staff moved into its program offices and got to work filling up the incubator space with temporary residents: a lawn care company, a computer repair service, a real estate agent, and others.
The LPP was especially helpful to the Centre because of its mission as a nonprofit. Stroud says the organization tries to avoid relying too heavily on grants or government funding. “Coming up into 2018, we don’t anticipate a lot of those resources being available,” he says. That means as much of the Centre’s cash needed to be available to pay staff and fund its work—and not on debt service.
“We knew that we wanted to expand. We felt like this was an opportunity to do that, and it’s proven itself. Now we’re out of space and are going to have to add an additional building onto this one.”
That’s where the vision board comes in.
Stroud talks about his goal to help military veterans and their families, to possibly develop a mixed-use center with multifamily housing and shops, to renovate and sell starter homes to families that want to buy but can’t afford market rates. “We know there’s not enough affordable housing anywhere,” he says.
The Centre wants to add more business incubator space, and to grow its services to help potential homebuyers and future entrepreneurs in Vance, Warren, Franklin, and adjacent counties. To help more people. To make a difference, just like the staff set out to do nearly 15 years ago in churches and libraries.
“I just feel like we’ve impacted the community,” Stroud says modestly. “The people know we’re here, and we’re hoping to build on that.”