2016 – Catalyst is Born.
Catalyst Development Corporation was born in late 2016. The brainchild of Carver State Bank Chairman and CEO, Robert James, Catalyst was created to address affordable housing and economic development needs beyond the reach of Carver’s traditional bank lending. Mr. James, a fifty-year community banking veteran, realized that even though Carver is a certified Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), with a mission to provide the building blocks to financial freedom, there was a need for a new, community based organization that could address critical needs for affordable housing and economic development by tapping into resources unavailable to banks, and by providing financing in ways a regulated bank cannot.
2017 – Catalyst Finds Leaders
In early 2017, Mr. James charged his son, Robert James, II, with the task of taking Catalyst from a concept to reality. Robert, Carver’s Director of Strategic Initiatives and a corporate attorney, incorporated Catalyst, achieved 501(c)(3) status for the organization, and, with Mr. James’ help, recruited its founding board of directors. Led by Chairman Terry Enoch, Chief of Police for the Savannah Chatham Public Schools and community stalwart, the board includes former Savannah Mayor Edna Branch Jackson, Scott Center, CEO of National Office Systems and Chairman of World Trade Center Savannah, and local entrepreneur Amari A. Adams, co-owner of Adams Funeral Services. Together with Robert, Catalyst’s founding board is well-positioned to tap into community needs and resources, and brings tremendous energy and insight to the organization.
2017 – Catalyst Connects with Healthcare Georgia Foundation
Later that year, Carver learned that the Opportunity Finance Network was assisting Healthcare Georgia Foundation in identifying Georgia CDFIs whose work was having a positive impact on social detriments of health in Georgia. HGF, whose mission is to enable, improve, and advance the health and well-being for all Georgians, realized that in most cases, medical treatment is only a stopgap when treating a person who deals with substandard housing, limited economic opportunity, inadequate educational systems, environmentally dangerous surroundings, lack of access to healthy food options, or high-crime neighborhoods. The medical community has begun to focus more attention on these non-medical factors, otherwise known as “Social Determinants of Health,” as being highly correlated to an individual’s well-being. HGF wanted to support the work of CDFIs, which have a tremendous impact on these social determinants of health. With Carver’s assistance, Catalyst won a small $7,500 grant from HGF, which was dedicated to 50 hours of technical assistance.
2017 – Catalyst Engages Wilson Consulting Associates
Catalyst used its initial HGF grant to engage Tammy Wilson, of Wilson Consulting Associates, to help Catalyst develop its strategic plan. Ms. Wilson brings over 25 years of experience in banking, finance and community development and has provided community development consulting services to both national and international community development organizations. She was the ideal choice to work with Catalyst’s board in developing a strategic plan. With Ms. Wilson’s help, Catalyst’s board articulated its vision and mission statements, created its first strategic plan, and participated in a number of HGF-led convenings of Georgia CDFIs, where Catalyst shared its experiences and learned about the incredible work of other CDFIs in Georgia.
2018 – Healthcare Georgia Foundation Seeds Catalyst
As a result of its strategic planning work, in late 2018, Catalyst was selected by HGF to receive a second, larger grant of $100,000, to support its efforts to become a certified CDFI and to pursue strategic impact investments that will deliver long-term health related impacts to low-income Georgia communities. This funding opportunity, made to only three other CDFIs working in Georgia, provided just the boost Catalyst needed to take its vision and mission to the next level. Catalyst’s board named Robert James, II as its acting Executive Director and engaged Ms. Wilson to provide project management support. With the resources provided by HGF, Catalyst was able to begin engaging in financing activities and had the ability to seek additional support to grow the organization.
2019 – Catalyst Makes Its First Investment
In 2019, Catalyst identified its first opportunity to provide its resources to a needed project. A minority-owned development company, Soteria Professional Services, approached Catalyst regarding a new home renovation in the West Savannah neighborhood. This area, targeted for affordable infill housing redevelopment by the City of Savannah, is a historically African American working-class neighborhood. While many of the homeowners have maintained their modest houses in good repair for decades, a large number of houses have fallen into disrepair, and a number are abandoned or condemned. Soteria was able to acquire a nearly 100-year old home on Stratford Street that had been condemned by the City, but needed additional resources to tackle the rehabilitation. Together with financing from Carver State Bank, Catalyst was able to invest funds for the renovation. Soteria was able to completely rehab the home, with a new roof, new exterior insulation and siding, new HVAC system, new bathrooms, a new kitchen, and augment the floorplan, taking a 3 bedroom/2 bath home and adding a 4th bedroom. Soteria is partnering with the City of Savannah to sell the home to a first-time homebuyer in conjunction with the City’s DreamMaker Program.
2019 – Catalyst Wins CDFI Technical Assistance Award
Catalyst’s other major achievement in 2019 was its successful application to the CDFI Fund for a 2019 Technical Assistance Award. The Community Development Financial Institutions Fund is an arm of the United States Treasury Department. By offering tailored resources and innovative programs that invest federal dollars alongside private sector capital, the CDFI Fund serves mission-driven financial institutions that take a market-based approach to supporting economically disadvantaged communities. Catalyst applied for a grant under the CDFI Fund’s Technical Assistance Program and was awarded $125,000. Technical Assistance grants are offered to CDFIs and Certifiable CDFIs to build their organizational capacity. Catalyst will use its TA grant to complete the work necessary to make it eligible to apply for CDFI certification in 2020.
2020 – Catalyst Joins Chatham County Housing Coalition
As a result of 2019 meetings with the City of Savannah and the Community Housing Services Agency, Catalyst learned of the Chatham County Housing Coalition. The Chatham County Housing Coalition is a group of concerned citizens and community leaders that has identified an urgent need for more quality affordable housing and community collaboration to identify and implement strategies to solve the community’s housing challenges. Catalyst has joined the CCHC and Executive Director Robert James, II is serving on its Resource Development Committee.