The role of microfinance for housing repair for low-income households in the United States


  • MPGI

Área de conhecimento: 

  • Anthony Tyrone


  • Anthony Tyrone Scott Junior




Ever since microfinance gained popularity in the United States in the early 1990s, American microfinance institutions (MFI) have been trying to figure out how microfinance fits in the American financial system. Initially, the U.S. bought into microcredit’s theory of change as a financially self-supporting vehicle to help the poor exit poverty (Where Credit is Due, 2015), however structural challenges in the U.S. economic system make microfinance difficult for scale, like that seen in developing countries. In 2012, for example, the U.S. microfinance industry served over 361,000 people with a total loan volume of 366million,whileinBrazil−acountryofcomparablepopulation,forexample−servedover3millionpeoplewithavolumeof366million,whileinBrazil−acountryofcomparablepopulation,forexample−servedover3millionpeoplewithavolumeof2.5 billion (FIELD, 2012; Microfinance Information Exchange, 2016). When it comes to microfinance specifically for housing in the U.S., the sector is virtually non-existent. This is largely a result of the U.S. debt-heavy model, which discourages progressive housing construction in favor of requiring the client to buy the entire house upfront. Consequently, most research has discarded microfinance as a viable option for housing purchase in the U.S., resulting in a lack of analysis on using it for a more targeted market in home improvements and repairs. The key assumption this paper makes is that the housing microfinance (HMF) repair market might be more financially sustainable in the U.S. due to both the smaller dollar value, relative to home purchase, and the high and reoccurring need for repair that is unlike microloans to businesses. This paper maps the barriers to scaling the microfinance industry in the U.S., as it pertains to home maintenance and improvement for low-income households. It uses the American city of Baltimore as the context for analysis, due to the city’s high need for housing repair and large percentage of residents with limited access to finance. Analysis relies on qualitative interviewing of both lenders and borrowers, concluding that microlending for housing repairs can only be financially sustained with private and public partnership. What Baltimore demonstrates is that HMF, unlike microloans for businesses, is impacted by subsidized interest rates due to government and philanthropic priorities in housing, which prioritize affordability over financial sustainability. Further research is needed on extending microcredit to small landlords for rental properties, since the need and impact on the poor is greater.

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