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Walsh announces financial empowerment initiative

Sandra Larson | 10/22/2014, 12:46 p.m.
Mayor Martin Walsh has announced the opening of the Roxbury Center for Financial Empowerment in Dudley Square as part of ...
Mayor Martin Walsh announces the initiation of an Economic Opportunity Agenda for Boston. The focus will be increasing the number of quality jobs, improving access to such jobs through education and workforce development and expanding financial empowerment strategies for building assets and stemming the cycle of poverty. (Mayor’s Office photo by Isabel Leon) Mayor’s Office photo by Isabel Leon

Mayor Martin Walsh has announced the opening of the Roxbury Center for Financial Empowerment in Dudley Square as part of a new initiative to address income inequality and poverty in Boston.

The city-operated Roxbury center and a second financial opportunity center run by Jewish Vocational Services will provide not only job search and tax preparation assistance, but financial coaching to help individuals and families improve credit scores, accumulate savings and build wealth. The expanded and integrated services are meant to promote long-term financial stability.

“Too many Bostonians have not been able to build security,” Walsh said, addressing a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd last week inside the new center, formerly the Roxbury Resource Center, at 2201 Washington Street.

“It’s not enough to count on economic growth to lift all boats,” he continued. “We have a lot of work coming into Boston, and things are great in some cases — but it’s not great for everyone. We have to create an infrastructure of opportunity.”

The mayor cited figures from a new Family Assets Count report showing that 46 percent of Boston households do not have sufficient savings on hand to live for three months if they suffer a disruption to income.

“Forty-six percent. That means that for every two people on the street, one of us doesn’t have the means to get through a bad time, like losing our job,” Walsh said. “And the numbers get worse for black households, at 69 percent. And 75 percent for Latino households. That’s too many people living close to the edge.”

The anti-poverty initiative includes the formation of a new Office of Financial Empowerment to be overseen by the city’s Office of Jobs and Community Services. Partners collaborating with the city include Local Initiatives Support Corporation and United Way of Massachusetts and Merrimack Valley, both of which are contributing substantial funding to support the new opportunity centers.

Bob Van Meter, executive director of Boston LISC, said that LISC has implemented an integrated service model in 30 cities around the U.S., and locally has partnered in Resilient Communities/Resilient Families initiatives in Roxbury, Mattapan and Codman Square.

“We view our funding of this center as part of a comprehensive neighborhood strategy that we have been supporting in Boston,” Van Meter said. “The Financial Empowerment Center is not only part of a financial empowerment strategy, but a neighborhood improvement strategy.”

The transformation of the Roxbury Resource Center into the Roxbury Center for Financial Empowerment was announced by Alan Gentle, director of both the former and the new center. He emphasized the integrated nature of the services the new center will provide.

National studies show that people receiving bundled services are three to four times more likely to achieve key economic outcomes than those receiving a single service, Gentle said. He also described LISC data showing that clients who receive job placement and financial coaching services together are more likely to retain their jobs than those who receive job placement help alone.

Speaking to the Banner after the program, Gentle said his center previously focused mainly on workforce development, but now will take more of a “case management approach” that includes financial coaching and connection to available income supports.

The data from Family Assets Count, a project of the Corporation for Enterprise Development in collaboration with Citi Community Development and the Midas Collaborative, show that 17 percent of Boston residents officially live in poverty, but far more are “financially vulnerable.”

According to the data profile for Boston, 16 percent of Boston residents have no bank account at all, and nearly one-quarter have a bank account but still rely on “pay day loans” and check cashing centers, suggesting they are paying unnecessary fees to access their money.

“The data make clear that many Boston families, especially low-income and families of color, are living on the brink of financial catastrophe,” the report states.

Information on Family Assets Count, including the Boston data profile, is available at familyassetscount.org.

For more information about the Financial Empowerment initiative or the Roxbury Center for Financial Empowerment, e-mail FinancialEmpowerment@boston.gov or call Mimi Turchinetz, living wage administrator at the Office of Jobs and Community Services, 617-918-5259.