NEW HAVEN — The Greater New Haven branch of NAACP and First Niagara Bank today announced an historic partnership that makes more than $7 million available to support businesses and homebuyers.

Branch President James E. Rawlings said the partnership is about “hope,” and gladly not about homicide — a reference to violence that has plagued the city this year.

Rawlings said the partnership, more than a year in the making, was driven by “the overwhelming deconstruction of our urban center through property value and more importantly, houses and homes lost in these very difficult times.” He said the partnership is about raising “the hopes and dreams of local families and individuals to a whole new level.”

First Niagara has agreed to provide $6.85 million over five years in loans and down-payment assistance, in addition to other money.

“During our market entry phase, First Niagara pledged to invest more than $1 billion in Community Reinvestment Act or CRA, lending over five years in Connecticut,” said First Niagara Executive Vice President of Corporate Initiatives Frank Polino. “Working with organizations like the NAACP, First Niagara has the ability to put our CRA pledge into practice and to create programs that can have a sustained positive impact on individuals and businesses across our footprint.”

The initiative includes:

‰A home ownership assistance program that provides low- to moderate-income buyers with up to $10,000 in assistance for down payment and closing costs. First Niagara has established a special affordable home mortgage loan pool with special rates and more flexible underwriting.

‰A small business loan pool that would provide up to $150,000 for those who qualify and $1,000 to $25,000 for micro loans. Financing would go to companies located in low- to moderate-income areas or who create jobs for low- to moderate-income people. Special focus will be on businesses owned by minorities or women.

‰Funding of $150,000 over three years to support various NAACP community programs, including the annual Freedom Fund Dinner, Health Fair and Economic Summit.

‰Another $38,000 will support the NAACP’s educational scholarship fund and the city’s summer jobs program.

Mayor John DeStefano Jr. praised the program.

“I think this is a great investment by First Niagara,” he said in a statement. “The partnership with the NAACP makes a lot of sense. Both parties are to be congratulated.”


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