Often conferences rely on experts to determine priorities, but we recognize the shared expertise that participants gain from working daily in the field of community development. During the town hall-style closing plenary, attendees were divided into three areas of community finance—policy, products and tools/resources—and given the opportunity to voice their ideas regarding the top issues that should be addressed in this field.
With current high unemployment rates, the top priority in this area was no surprise: Support innovation in education and workforce development. Participants concluded that collective policy and action are required to address failing educational attainment levels.
Coming in second was another education-related issue: Financial education in schools should be a funded priority.
Ranking third was the need for local, state and federal savings policies to promote savings and support matched savings accounts for children and lower-income communities.
Fourth was a tie between expanding civic infrastructure so that more communities and households are able to participate, and making tax credits and deductions more equitable across geographies and income groups. In fifth place was changing usury laws by supervising alternative financial services to improve neighborhood stability and household economic mobility.
Another topical issue ranked sixth: Improve local and state policies for land banking. Participants recognized that this is a critical issue for areas with large numbers of vacant or abandoned real estate. The need for the National Housing Trust Fund ranked seventh.
Overwhelmingly, conference participants voted microlending as the top product needed to provide funds for small-dollar loans to consumers and small businesses. They also considered important priorities to be funding for intermediaries to provide technical assistance and microloans, as well as developing scalable and replicable products that could be used nationwide.
Financial education ranked second not only in the policy category, but also in products. Overwhelmingly, participants believed that financial education needs to be mandated in schools from kindergarten to 12th grade, as well as attached to lending products.
Savings and reserves were ranked third. Participants believed that financial institutions need to work with low-income borrowers to come up with innovative savings products. They also recommended building in reserve products attached to home mortgage loans to ensure sustainability.
Expanded availability of innovative banking products, such as stored value cards and mobile banking, ranked fourth, followed by microbusiness venture capital funds with local and state seed funds, and mortgage loan products that incorporate sweat equity.
The top priority here was enhancing the Community Reinvestment Act as a tool for innovation and consistency, and serving as a catalyst to allow banks to be flexible.
Developing resources that will support financial institutions in their creation of small-value loans came in second place, followed closely by preserving federal tax credits as a community development tool.
Fourth and fifth place were both tied to financial education: Crafting tools and curriculum that are relevant and timely to low-income communities, and developing a consistent, standardized approach to financial education in schools.
In sixth place was developing alternative financing tools and resources for nonprofits and local governments, including bonds and tax incentives for charitable deductions. This was followed closely by developing a rigorous evaluation process and tools for nonprofits, as well as providing a funding source and technical assistance.
Developing a standardized process for financial institutions and nonprofit organizations to deploy microenterprise programs through technical assistance, loans and grants was eighth. And the final priority was developing a factor financing tool kit to help small business entrepreneurs manage their cash flow.
The purpose of the closing plenary was twofold. We wanted to provide an opportunity for participants to create a priorities list to use in building an agenda for action to make sustainable impact in their communities. And we also wanted to use what we heard to help inform the work of the Fed's community development team.
It is hoped that well thought-out policies at the local, state or federal government levels will result in regulations that produce tools and/or resources that lead to the development of products that in turn ultimately enhance the quality of life in our communities.