Community investment vastly improves any community, and Harlem is no different. Through the extensive efforts of not-for-profits and firms, Harlem rapidly improved from its lowest point during the 1980s. One such organization helping with this improvement is Harlem Congregations for Community Development (HCCI), a not-for-profit firm, which runs affordable housing for the greater Harlem Community. Interestingly enough, HCCI emerged from the African American church, where pastors came together to form the organization for community improvement. We spoke with the current President and CEO of HCCI, Malcolm A. Punter, to discuss the organization’s work and plans for the future.
Presently, HCCI is responsible for over “100 buildings in the Harlem community and 95% of those housing units are from low to moderate income households”. The institution has also been active in economic development projects, “in fact [HCCI] is a part of the coalition that developed the Victoria Hotel in housing on West 125th street, which was over $200 million in construction costs”.
President Punter was very clear to say, however, that HCCI’s mission has “always been and will continue to be to aid the very low income; the seniors citizens; the youth; women; children; we want to stay engrossed in that”. This mission goes further than affordable housing, as it encompasses the financial health of Harlem. Most prominently, they assist Harlemites in improving their credit score and obtaining their first mortgage. Punter explained that HCCI is able to accomplish this through “a lending circle, where we have a pooling of resources in a small group… effectively increasing credit scores from 32 – 100 points”. And, effectively, their work is able to help first time homebuyers as “a credit score determines whether a person is a lifelong renter or a homebuyer”. JPMorgan Chase works with HCCI to support their lending circles work and connect Harlem customers of the bank to appropriate housing and community development programs run by the not-for-profit firm.
But, these efforts of HCCI have grander implications. As Punter put it, “first-time homebuyers not only increase their personal wealth but also improve the economic drivers of our communities.” It’s quite clear, “First-time homebuyers have increased wealth, which is then multiplied by the mortgage, and then you have millions of dollars in investment, all from first-time homebuyers.” HCCI is not just building the wealth of the first-time homebuyer, but they are also “injecting the economy in ways that no one could envision.”
HCCI’s investment has also extended towards other firms via an “incubation program”. Through this process, HCCI works with other organizations until “they are self-sufficient”, then, HCCI lets them go. A prominent example is the Jackie Robinson Park Conservancy, where volunteers and take care of the Jackie Robinson Park. The park had previously been “a no man’s land”, and together they “ were able to turn around the park free of fare”. Other companies have also experienced similar “incubation” and have become prominent themselves. So, as Putner views it “HCCI created a laboratory of success as an accelerator rather than as an investor”.Harlem experienced a revival with the help of HCCI, and Putner sees new opportunities in other urban communities that face some of the “blight” that occurred in Harlem to develop their own HCCI. Before Covid, Putner had started parts of this work, traveling to Seattle “helping coalitions of houses of worship and churches to help them form their own HCCI-like organization to provide affordable housing, economic and work employment opportunities for their communities.” In Atlanta, Georgia “we are partnering with a local group to produce housing and business storefront opportunities. In South Carolina, “we also have a development program in south, partnering with a local group there to procure tax credits to produce 250 units of affordable housing. And, eventually, there may be more than one Harlem in the United States.