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Community News: Southwest

LEIMERT PARK : Loan Center Wants More Homeowners

January 16, 1994|ERIN J. AUBRY

Operation Hope founder and financial consultant John Bryant is banking on yet another project to help improve the sluggish local economy.

Bryant, 27, is scheduled to open Vision Center, a loan-processing and financial counseling center, on March 1.

Located in the Vision Complex Theater on Degnan Boulevard, the center will be under the auspices of Operation Hope, the nonprofit banking consortium that Bryant founded in the wake of the 1992 riots.

With loan officers from financial institutions on staff to help process applications, Bryant said the center will help increase the number of home loans, and therefore the number of homeowners, in the area.

"Owning a home is the backbone of the American Dream, and not enough folks in the inner city have access to it, or believe they do," Bryant said. "The Vision Center will act as a liaison between banks and minority communities."

The center will also offer financial counseling to applicants who do not qualify for loans.

Operation Hope case managers will work with these clients at no charge for a year, monitoring payments on everything from utilities to car insurance, so that clients can eventually qualify for loans funded by a "safety net" pool set up by the participating financial institutions. The institutions have agreed to contribute $200,000 on each $1 million they loan to that fund.

It is a cooperative, shared-risk approach that will make it possible for all the participating institutions to make home loans to those who would otherwise be turned down, Bryant said.

"The whole idea is to expand the pool of qualified home buyers," he said.

"Banks can only make decisions based on TRW reports and certain other information," Bryant said. "They may want to help someone qualify for a loan, but their hands are tied. Operation Hope can act as that helping hand, the third party that goes between the bank and the borrower. And everybody benefits."

Five of six financial institutions that Bryant hopes will provide staff for the center are still in negotiations with Operation Hope and could not be named. But the Glendale-based Fidelity Federal Bank, which is also a member of Operation Hope, has agreed to work with the center.

"This is a great idea," said Walter Morris, executive vice president of Fidelity Federal. "From our standpoint, it's part of an overall effort to try different ways of going after good business. The borrower information component is particularly crucial. It's a prime example of how private and nonprofit can come together to increase home ownership in the community."

Bryant has garnered media attention and community praise the past year for his efforts to help rebuild the riot-torn economy of South-Central Los Angeles neighborhoods. A few days after forming Operation Hope, Bryant had coordinated efforts among nine lenders to fund $370,000 to rebuild Handler's Pharmacy, a 20-year-old business at 48th Street and Western Avenue that burned to the ground.

But Bryant insisted there's no magic to what he does: "Look, we just want to benefit the community. Our mission is to drive ourselves out of business. People ultimately just want a hand, not a handout."

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