LEIMERT PARK : Center Lends a Hand to New Home Buyers

The Operation Hope Vision Center, a consortium of loan officers from several banks seeking to increase home loans in the inner city, opened in Leimert Park last week.

The center, at Degnan Boulevard and 43rd Street in the Vision Center theater complex, will offer alternatives to people turned down for loans at traditional institutions.

Staffed with loan officers from four lending institutions--Fidelity Federal Bank, First Federal Bank of California, First Republic Thrift and Loan and South Pacific Thrift and Loan--the center will work with first-time buyers to establish good credit. Home loans are virtually assured for clients willing to stick to a financial plan outlined by loan officers.

Lance Triggs, the center's executive director, says the unique component of the program is case management. Clients who do not initially qualify go through six to 12 months of home buyer workshops, financial counseling and one-on-one mentoring to work up to a point where they can qualify for a loan. Credit portfolios will be established by looking at payment history of rent, utilities and other bills.

Triggs said the unusual lending approach is all in the spirit of encouraging banks to look at a total picture before assuming a prospective buyer is a bad risk.

"It's a fact that home loan defaults in the inner city are among the lowest anywhere," he said. "We want banks to not just identify problems, but also solutions. We don't want people to feel intimidated or cross-examined, as they often do in banks."

Loans will be funded by the Vision Fund, a "safety net" fund pool set up by the four participating institutions. Open only a week, the center has already approved loans for seven clients, Triggs said.

The center is the brainchild of 27-year-old businessman and Operation Hope foundation founder John Bryant. He said he conceived the idea last year after realizing that lack of home ownership is a chief reason people feel they have little stake in their community. Triggs said he and Bryant, a longtime friend, believe it was no accident that virtually no homes burned during the 1992 rioting.

"You don't burn that which you own," said Triggs, who plans to recruit clients through churches, businesses and grass-roots organizations.

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