By Igor Yorke
I am a proud small business owner of a cafe in Spokane with my wife, Iryna. We arrived in Spokane in 2015 after fleeing a brutal war in our home country of Ukraine. Our store, Cedar Coffee, is a dream come true. Once refugees and now citizens, we have a thriving small business that has allowed us to be successful in Spokane and able to raise donations for our home country during these difficult times.
But we haven’t always been in such a situation, especially in our early days. Fortunately, one of the resources we were able to access was SNAP, a local community development financial institution, which provided us with capital and training. That’s why I’m thrilled that Governor Jay Inslee signed the Fair Access to Credit Act passed by the Legislative Assembly this year. This legislation created a new fund to provide resources for people like me who are pursuing their dream and creating jobs, but who face barriers when trying to access traditional financing.
While I’m proud today of Cedar Coffee’s current business success and impact on the community, we struggled to get a loan from our local bank when we started. Unable to help us, the bank referred me and my wife to a local community development financial institution. When we arrived in Spokane, we knew very little English and had no documented relevant experience in the United States. Yet we knew we offered passion, experience and confidence in our business model.
A Community Development Financial Institution is a non-profit financial institution certified by the United States Department of the Treasury. Unlike a traditional financial institution, SNAP and other similar groups provide technical assistance to help customers manage key elements of their operations and share other fundamentals of finance. As a mission-driven financial institution that invests in underserved communities, it often offers business loans that are more affordable than their traditional counterparts. Community development financial institutions are generally not custodians and often rely on funding from sources such as government and philanthropy, which means they work hard to help invest in underserved communities where the need for funding exceeds often the limited resources available. Traditional financial institutions, like banks and credit unions, are required to manage their risk differently, resulting in lending guidelines and underwriting processes that work for many people, but can leave people like my wife and me behind.
The passage of the Fair Access to Credit Act means that more people in Washington seeking access to capital who have historically been left behind will now find greater opportunities. This measure created a new government fund that will allocate up to $40 million over the next five years to community development financial institutions in Washington to provide access to affordable loans and technical financial services in the communities where they live. operate in our state. This new program means there will be better access to affordable loans and the same type of financial training that I received when we applied for our loan.
I am proud that we are just one of the growing start-ups that have benefited from hundreds of millions of investments from community development financial institutions in our state since our business opened in 2018. No one asks help, but everyone deserves a fair shot. The new funding program will mean that more people like me will have the chance to pursue their dream, create jobs and provide services in the community.
One of our loan officers, who came from traditional banking before coming to work for SNAP, said that in her former career, she often had to say “no” even when she wanted to say “yes” to an idea. great deal that just didn’t meet the financial institution’s lending criteria. My wife and I are proud that she helped us win a “yes”. We’re thrilled that with this new state fund, many more people who are used to hearing ‘no’ all the time are now much more likely to celebrate a ‘yes’ so they can pursue their dream.
Igor Yorke has lived in Spokane for seven years. A refugee from Ukraine and an American citizen, he is the proud co-owner with his wife, Iryna, of Cedar Coffee in Spokane.