City First Enterprises works at the intersection of financial innovation and impact investment, leading the way toward a more equitable economy. Whether we finance affordable housing, small businesses or clean energy initiatives our goal for the past 20+years has been to meet our clients where they are and to face their challenges with determination and resilience — together.
2020 was a pivotal year for us. The pandemic tested our team as we quickly adapted to an unprecedented working environment, expanded our investing categories and ultimately seized new opportunities to improve the lives of those living and working in the DC region.
We hope you enjoy this chance to learn more about our most notable milestones in 2020.
Despite COVID-19, our team continued underwriting and funding new loans at a record pace, allowing us to double the size of our loan portfolio in just two years. We worked diligently to distribute funds to projects with deep local community benefit— including preserving cultural hubs and continuing our investments in affordable housing, green energy, charter schools, and small businesses.
We underwrite mission-focused projects and diverse entrepreneurs across a variety of sectors. The chart below shows our loans in 2020, by sector.
Once a treasure of the District’s Shaw neighborhood, the Howard Theatre fell into disrepair in the years following the 1968 civil unrest. The District’s government purchased the property in 1986 and, some twenty years later, selected a local development group to restore the theatre to its former glory. Now led by a fourth-generation Washingtonian, it had been hosting over 20 events per month until the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the venue went dark. A line of credit from CFE helped the Howard Theatre continue to cover its expenses during the pandemic, saving this neighborhood anchor from falling into disrepair again.
Diversity is core to not only who we are but also to what we do. In 2020, most of our lending activity was in support of minority owned or led businesses and organizations. $5 million dollars of investment were directed to Wards 7 & 8 alone. Creating an equitable economy is our mission, and we strive to create impact by investing in businesses and projects whose success will have a multiplier effect throughout their communities.
Well known to locals as a hidden gem, La Cabaña restaurant is owned by a first-generation immigrant couple, Oscar Rodriguez Hilario and his wife, Lucia, who have nearly 20 years of combined restaurant industry experience. Open since 2016, La Cabaña serves up authentically delicious Mexican fare in the Dundalk neighborhood of Baltimore, MD. Our commercial loan allowed them to purchase their building, providing them more control of their occupancy costs and allowing them to build equity over time.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, CFE has been a key partner of the DC government in designing and delivering financial relief programs for highly impacted DC businesses and communities.
CFE partnered with the office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) and the Department for Housing and Community Development (DHCD) to develop and manage four COVID-19 relief grant programs funded by the City. Three programs were directed to benefit small businesses and one was in support of small housing providers and landlords.
Through the Restaurant Bridge Fund program, over $34 million in grants were awarded to help DC’s restaurants with payroll, benefits and operational costs stemming from COVID-19 closures and restrictions on the restaurant industry during the height of the pandemic.
Over $2 million dollars in support went to housing providers and landlords in the District through the Small Housing Provider grant program, which helped preserve more than 2,300 units to the benefit of over 4,000 tenants.
In total CFE processed over 3,100 applications and released 2,378 grants during 2020 and early 2021. The CFE team in conjunction with our District partners worked hard to bring much-needed relief to all corners of the City.
Located in the busy U Street corridor of Washington, DC, Italian Kitchen is owned and operated by Tony Mekonen and his wife Mimi. Italian Kitchen prides itself on serving delicious well-made food, with breads doughs and sauces made fresh daily. A pillar of its community, Italian Kitchen has been in operation for over 20 years. Like so many small businesses in our neighborhoods, it was severely impacted by the pandemic. Italian Kitchen was one of the over 600 small businesses CFE funded through DMPED’s Restaurant Bridge Fund. For its owners, proceeds from this grant represented a vital financial bridge to the post-COVID-19 economy, one where many small businesses like Italian Kitchen, which employs nearly 20 individuals, will again thrive. CFE is proud to be a part of their entrepreneurial journey.
New alliances to finance Green Energy have positioned CFE at the center of an emerging CDFI lending space.
In 2020, we forged a loan servicing partnership with the newly launched DC Green Bank, leveraging our know-how in lending to underserved markets to provide energy efficiency improvements through solar installation for low- to moderate-income residential buildings in Wards 4, 7, and 8.
Also in 2020, CFE, in partnership with Montgomery County Green Bank, launched a $500,000 joint loan facility aimed at providing capital to small businesses and nonprofits for green projects in the county.
These partnerships have enabled CFE to become a leader in the clean energy movement with investments that will help build a robust and sustainable economy in the District and surrounding areas.
Expanding to meet the growing capital needs in our communities.
CFE has grown rapidly over the past few years, and that growth has a direct impact on the Washington, DC area communities we serve. We have continued our focus on affordable housing while solidifying our expansion into our other sectors, further increasing, and diversifying our impact in the process.