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Close of Business: Building Relationships

by Amanda Hamm Hengel

By partnering with Habitat for Humanity, local banks are putting their expertise—and employees—to work.

It’s no secret that owning a home today can be difficult. Between the mortgage, general upkeep and other household bills, simply making ends meet can be a struggle. For a low-income family, the task can be even more daunting. Recognizing the struggles families in their communities are facing, local banks have found ways to help ease the burden by building partnerships with their local Habitat for Humanity branches—putting their knowledge of financing to good use to help those who need it most.

When asked how Vineland-based Capital Bank of New Jersey became involved with Habitat, an international non-profit organization with a mission to make affordable housing available to low-income families, President and CEO David Hanrahan says it was simply out of a desire to become involved with the community.

“We opened for business in 2007 and, even from the earliest days of Capital Bank, it was important to our organizers and our board that we find meaningful ways to benefit the communities we serve,” he explains. “We’ve done that with various civic and charitable organizations, but Habitat in particular is a good fit for bankers, in my opinion, because they create housing, and housing is part of what we do every day; it’s part of our stock and trade.”

Since their initial joining, Hanrahan says the partnership with Capital Bank and Habitat has developed into a program other banks can emulate. Through the program, the bank funds construction of the homes, and then is paid back through the home’s interest-free mortgage.

“We’ve come up with an investment arrangement that could easily be replicated by banks with their local Habitats around the country,” he says, noting several local banks have contacted Capital Bank to discuss the program.

While they may not have developed programs like Capital Bank’s, other banks in the area have made significant contributions to their local Habitat branches through the years. Among them is Sewell-based ParkeBank, which at the end of 2012 donated a bank-owned home to its local Habitat branch.

Senior Vice President Daniel Sulpizio says the idea for the donation came up in a meeting one day when it was realized that both the house and the main office for Gloucester County Habitat for Humanity were located right next door in Pitman.

“We thought, ‘Hey, this is a great idea,’” he says. “We’re sitting on this home; it’s a bad market to sell it, so why don’t we put it to good use?”

Sulpizio says while the house needs to be renovated before it can be inhabited, it will eventually be as good as new.

“We want to get the house up to code and then put a family in,” he says, adding that employees of the bank have been helping to rehab the home. “We don’t want anyone going in having problems.”

Divisions of Franklin Bank in Salem County have also offered assistance to their local Habitat branch through charitable donations and volunteer hours at the Habitat homes.

Kevin Gibala, a commercial loan officer for the bank, says the assistance his company provides is about more than just helping families in need. He says it also helps to build a better sense of community.

“We see these people every day, in and out of the branch,” he says. “It’s about getting to know the people and having a relationship with them. It’s about a friendship.”

Gibala says he likes working with Habitat because the organization invests in the families instead of just helping them out and then walking away.

“We still talk to people who have been in the program for 10 years,” he says. “It’s not, ‘We’re going to build your house and then never see you again.’ It’s a continued relationship.”

Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Biz, Volume 2, Issue 2 (February, 2013).
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