What does a neighborhood shaped by its people look like? How do communities take ownership over their schools, their streets, and how they change and develop? And how do we create the B Corp movement’s vision of a “shared and durable prosperity for all?”
This is what Hester Street, an urban planning, design, and development nonprofit, is committed to understanding and building. With a mission to create equitable, sustainable, and resilient neighborhoods and cities, Hester Street works to ensure neighborhoods are shaped by the people who live in them. They are laser-focused on understanding and elevating the needs of New York City neighborhoods by lifting up local knowledge and shifting power back into communities.
“Our work is to shift power from traditional government makers to people who work and live in their communities, the people who know best,” says Betsy MacLean, Executive Director of Hester Street. “We work to make sure people have a meaningful part in the future of their communities.”
A mixed team of urban planners, architects, and developers, Hester Street’s multifaceted work includes a combination of technical planning, design, and development with deep, meaningful community engagement. The result is increased civic participation and funding for projects that directly address community-identified needs and priorities. For example, they are currently engaging in a multi-stakeholder process with people in Bushwick and Harlem, where the city is rezoning neighborhoods. The goal is to avoid animosity and more importantly, inequitable decision-making.
“We map out the communication process so that the planning teams are talking to the community groups who are talking to the cops, parks, sanitation, developers and property owners,” explains Betsy. “With this process, we outline the equity choice points.”
Equity choice points include ensuring kids who live on the same block go to the same schools and creating finance opportunities for community organizations so they can own property. Via their Technical Assistance for Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) program, they seek to buy, build, or renovate spaces to root organizations as community anchors of culture and critical service provision in their neighborhoods for the long-term. Through this program, they work with CBOs from project visioning to ribbon cutting to ensure built projects meet the needs of residents, strengthen key community institutions, and preserve cultural identity. This results in what Betsy calls “neighborhood preservation.”
“We help community groups secure a mortgage for their spaces instead of giving their money to landlords. This, in turn, helps to ensure community organizing—and the voice of residents– stays in their neighborhoods forever,” says Betsy.
Hester Street coordinates direct education from cohorts of community groups to municipalities so that before top-down decisions are made the possibility of course correcting for historical injustice–like redlining—is addressed. As Betsy describes it, low-income communities and communities of color are “plowed over by planners and developers.”
“We are not neutral. We have a very clear mission. We are about equity. We serve low-income and communities of color exclusively. History shows that wealthy white neighborhoods will take care of themselves. Our mission is to make sure that people who aren’t usually in the room—are there,” Betsy explains.
And their impact is expansive. In 2017, Hester Street engaged 300,000+ residents in shaping projects and plans; developed 200,000 square feet of community facility space: libraries, community centers, open space; and developed 22 plans and addressed ten urban health issues in partnership with 55 community-based organizations.
When we met Betsy and her team at Hester Street, we immediately knew we shared a mission and vision for New York City. Through our Community Impact Program, designed to meet the funding gap needs for nonprofit organizations, Hester Street secured a $200,000 line of credit. They use the line of credit as reserves to get them through funding gaps and months where cash flow is tight. Betsy explains that they had a hard time finding the right lender.
“As a non-profit, our search for a lender was exhaustive. Everywhere we looked we found onerous terms including sky-high interest rates and monthly fees. Just when we were about to give up our search, we found Spring Bank. Not only did they understand what we needed, they offered us reasonable loan terms – in other words, they did not punish us because we are a non-profit,” says Betsy.
Unfortunately, this isn’t news to us. Many traditional lenders avoid lending to nonprofits because of the lack of collateral or gaps in funding. But we know they are key to thriving communities. Through our Community Impact Program, we offer flexible underwriting and customized terms specific to nonprofit organizations. And, we always waive maintenance fees. We think those giving the most should be rewarded the most.
“I wish I’d known about Spring Bank a long time ago,” says Betsy. “Run, don’t walk to Spring Bank! They offer the tools you need to ensure the efficient, effective operation of your organization; deep understanding of the non-profit context, and; they are working to advance positive social change in neighborhoods throughout the city. We deeply appreciate knowing that our money is in the hands of a responsible steward.”
We are very proud to partner with Hester Street as both their local bank and a community ally. Read more about how you can uplevel your civic engagement with them. Join them on June 13th from 6 to 10 pm for their annual benefit gathering. Learn about our nonprofit lending opportunities, our personal checking accounts, and our online banking.