Loan Zone: Rochester credit union gives co-ops a chance

Small business lending supports community mission of CDFIs.

Presenting on the history of community development finance at a CommonBound gathering, Melissa Marquez recalled how her mother would come home in tears from her job as a loan officer in San Diego in the 1970s.

Marquez’s mother was sick of working for a big bank that refused to lend to the residents of the primarily Mexican-American community of Barrio Logan, even though they were loyal customers. “That really affected me. That’s why I’m running a credit union,” said Marquez, now CEO of $18 million Genesee Co-Op Federal Credit Union, Rochester, N.Y.

Marquez and her co-presenters described the roots of credit unions as a means of survival for communities that faced systemic racial and other discrimination from traditional financial institutions. Focusing intensely on members, credit unions continue to specialize in consumer loans like home mortgages, home repair loans, car loans and loans to pay medical bills.

While there’s still plenty of discrimination to counter in those spheres, credit unions are increasingly feeling the pressure to venture more into small business lending. Genesee Co-Op FCU recently made its first loan to a worker cooperative, a line of credit to Small World Food Collective, a worker-owned bakery and fermentery in Rochester, N.Y. More broadly, the credit union is part of a city-led initiative to incubate a network of worker cooperatives connected to its anchor institutions.


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