In 1990, a group of Washington financial institutions joined together to create a consortium devoted to multi-family, affordable housing. Their goal was to generate a revolving, shared-risk loan pool that would provide a renewable source of permanent financing. In addition they were looking for a way to reduce and control administrative costs, develop and share expertise in the specialized underwriting and lending functions of affordable and special needs housing and otherwise assist member financial institutions in meeting the community development needs of their communities.
Under the leadership of Gerry Cameron, then US Bank of Washington President, the group contracted with The Development Fund (a nonprofit organization that develops innovative model programs in affordable housing) and set to work. Over the next few months, a Task Force representing 19 financial institutions met to analyze housing needs across the State, plan the structure, operations and lending products of the new organization and prepare the first operating budget.
The Washington Community Reinvestment Association opened its doors in February of 1992, with 35 member institutions and a $75 million loan pool. At that time, a lack of permanent financing was placing many multi-family affordable projects in jeopardy of losing their federal low income tax credit subsidies. This was clearly an area of immediate need and became WCRA’s first target market.
Current membership includes 37 financial institutions and the WCRA offers an array of lending and bond products, including both housing and real estate-based economic development projects. The original loan pool has been enhanced through the creation of two additional lending pools which raise the WCRA lending capacity to approximately $140 million. In 2003, WCRA partnered with the Washington State Housing Finance Commission (WSHFC) to create the Capital Plus! program. At inception the WSHFC entrusted WCRA with $3 million in Program Investment Funds (PIF). Capital Plus! provides both real estate and equipment lending to nonprofits whose focus is on providing services to low-income groups and/or special needs populations. This revolving loan pool has grown to $7.5 million today; all loan transactions are $500,000 and under. The approximately 20 projects funded through Capital Plus! since 2003 include community gardening for at-risk youth in Olympia; senior housing in rural Stevens County; a community center for disabled adults in Whatcom County; supportive housing in Thurston County; and seasonal farmworker housing in Mesa.
As of September 30, 2013, the WCRA has funded and committed nearly $259 million in loans representing almost 10,300 units of housing and over 133,000 square feet of economic development project space. We have now provided financing for affordable rental housing in 34 of 39 counties in Washington, amounting to 87% coverage of the state, benefiting 93 communities.