Citigroup flies rainbow flag with Community Capital projectFebruary 2014
While Citigroup’s corporate social responsibility programmes lend a generous hand to LGBT and anti-violence groups, its business operations do too. Laura Klepacki reports from the US
It is sometimes hard to detect where global financial firm Citigroup’s social programs end and its business programmes begin. In particular its outreach to the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender) community has become firmly intertwined.
Bob Annibale, global director of Citi Community Development and Microfinance, is also senior business sponsor for its Citi Pride Network New York chapter, an employee group that supports LGBT issues. The mission of its Community Capital division is to finance projects that are innovative and respond to a community need. It is a special lending sector that provides loans and financial instruments for underserved and lower income groups and communities that find it difficult to secure dollars from traditional sources.
An underserved community
In his daily work, Annibale has witnessed around the world that the LGBT population is “drastically underserved.” Annibale said he has been leveraging his two positions to help make Citi “a leader in supporting the LGBT community in New York and abroad.”
Employees from Citigroup marched side by side with staff and volunteers from the Anti-Violence Project in New York City’s annual Pride Parade, a tribute and support event for the nation’s LGBT population.
AVP is a non-profit that works to ease violent behaviour against LGBT people. It began in the 1980s when gay men in the Chelsea section of New York were harassed, stigmatized by the HIV/AIDs outbreak. Since then AVP’s definition of violence has expanded beyond the physical to include institutional violence – disrespect and discrimination by employers, businesses and government. In a bold show of unison, the Citi and AVP coalition wore t-shirts in Citi’s bright blue signature colour with both logos.
In their spare time, several Citi workers volunteer at AVP projects. William Yates, a director of Citi’s Community Capital project, once-a-month answers AVP’s 24-hour hotline fielding calls from individuals in distress.
Members of the company’s Citi Pride Network have painted AVP offices and distributed leaflets in targeted areas of the New York City. Citi funds AVP’s economic empowerment work in addition to sponsoring their Courage Awards.
Last year Citi’s Pride Network and Citi’s Diversity Office partnered with organizations working on important legal issues facing the LGBT community, including marital and immigration equality. But there is business being conducted with the LGBT community too.
The first-ever New York City low-income housing project created for LGBT youth, the True Colors Residence, was possible in part to financing provided by Citi Community Capital. True Colors Residence was the brain-child of pop star Cyndi Lauper and her business manager. It takes its name from her best selling single, a song she sings in honor of a friend who died of HIV/AIDS.
Located on West 154th Street in Harlem, True Colors is a 30-unit apartment house offering a supportive, permanent home to those between 18 and 24 with qualified incomes. Most of the residents have been forced out by their families. There are on-site life skills workshops and job placement assistance.
Yates said that the principals behind True Colors have proven to be responsible borrowers. The financing amounted to almost $6m, comprised of a construction loan of $2.5m and equity financing of $3.4m.
Like its other business units, “we want to make loans that are safe and sound and are going to be repaid,” said Yates. “What is different is not so much the process, but the way the deals are structured.” Affordable housing projects typically have many layers of subsidy, from both government agencies and non-profits, Yates pointed out. “In most cases these projects benefit from low income tax credits.”
Investing with heart
Citi Community Capital has been increasing its funding for affordable housing and community investment projects in the US, from $2.1m in 2011 to $2.6 m in 2012.
On the other end of the age spectrum, Citi Community has just inked a deal to finance construction of the 79-unit Halstead Seniors Apartment complex in the East Lakeview section of Chicago dedicated for LGBT people 55 and over.
It has also partnered in the development of a housing project in the Bronx, NY, for people with disabilities called the Barrier Free Living Apartments. The two-building project will provide 120 apartments for the disabled and survivors of domestic abuse. Both residences will offer social services and 24/7 security. “At Citi, we recognize that communities benefit when those most in need are able to find stable, permanent housing,” said Yates.
“Citi Community Capital has never been an ordinary investor/lender,” remarked Bill Traylor, president of Richman Housing Resources, the housing management company on the Barrier Free Living project. “Citi knows how to gauge real risk and to identify real business opportunity. Citi is an investor/lender with the right business acumen as well as a heart.”
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