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Crystal City-based lender finds new ways to invest in underserved communities

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(Updated 12:40 p.m. on 10/11/22) If you own a local restaurant, grocery co-op or healthcare clinic in an underinvested neighborhood, there’s a good chance that Arlington-based Capital Impact Partners can help find money to assist your business.

Capital Impact Partners (CIP), which has been in Crystal City for 40 years, is a Community Development Financial Institution aimed at helping lower-income and racially diverse communities secure loans as well as capital and financial assistance.

And this summer, CIP joined forces with lender CDC Small Business Finance and lending software company Ventures Lending Technologies to help clients more effectively. They are together known as Momentus Capital. The new group is already heating up the region’s economy, according to the Washington Business Journal, which named it as an honoree of its 2022 Inno on Fire Awards program.

“Small business owners, developers, and other local leaders are the engines of job creation and economic activity in communities across the country. When these leaders have the opportunity to succeed, their communities, their residents — and our country — thrive,” said Ellis Carr, president and CEO of Momentus Capital, in a statement. “We need bold thinking and a holistic approach to unleash solutions for underestimated communities. Momentus Capital was created to meet that challenge.”

Carr, who led CIP, and Kurt Chilcott, at the time the leader of CDC Small Business Finance and now the chair of both organizations’ boards, began developing the idea for Momentus in 2019. Under the new umbrella organization, the companies will still operate as one, although they will be maintained as separate legal entities, providing but their clients will now have access to more resources and products.

A small food business that Capital Impact Partners helped fund as part of Nourish DC (courtesy of Capital Impact Partners)

For instance, Momentus is developing new lending and investing products aimed at helping people who have historically been denied access to funding. It provides borrowers with training, mentorship and networking opportunities and also provides technical support to community-based organizations and lenders.

This is the kind of work that CIP has been doing since its founding in 1982. Now a national organization, with offices in Oakland, Detroit, Austin and New York, the company got its start in Crystal City, where its headquarters remain at 1400 Crystal Drive.

“We are always thinking about racial equity, the racial wealth gap, what was our role in that as lenders, and how can we create more access to capital in a more holistic way, deep in communities,” says Alison Powers, director of economic opportunities at Capital Impact Partners. “I like to think we’ve been one of the leaders when it comes to thinking about those questions.”

That might mean helping to secure a loan for a family-owned pharmacy in Green Valley or pinpointing a grant that might assist with staffing at a small, immigrant-owned restaurant on Columbia Pike.

Powers said this work reverses exclusionary systems in the U.S., such as redlining, which prevented communities of color and low-income families from getting home loans because their neighborhoods were deemed too risky for investment.

“How we think about credit and risk and underwriting has really been influenced by the history of the U.S. and who is perceived as being good candidates for access to certain financial products,” she says.

One recent example of CIP’s work is the creation of the Housing Equity Accelerator Fellowship, launched in May, with backing from Amazon’s $2 billion Housing Equity Fund.

The fellowship trains non-white real estate developers in building affordable housing in the D.C. region, including Arlington. Participants also get financial assistance for costly pre-construction expenses, such as permitting.

CIP’s Chief of External Affairs Robert Villarreal said this $5 million grant program meets two of the company’s goals: it funds and supports smaller real estate development companies, particularly Black-owned ones, and increases Arlington’s affordable housing stock.

And as businesses recover from the pandemic and the U.S. grapples with the effects of historically racist policies, Capital Impact Partners and Momentus say they will be there to support small enterprises.

“In the midst of developing the strategy for Momentus Capital, we witnessed the toll from the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing racial reckoning,” Chilcott said in a statement. “While challenging, those two years strengthened our resolve as we witnessed how these experiences specifically impacted communities of color and fueled the growing racial wealth gap.”

Jo DeVoe contributed to this report

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