Dear Chicago: Get banks to lend again

Small business advocate wants lenders to loosen their grip.

February 21, 2011

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Chicago residents might not realize it, but some of their favorite neighborhood retail strips are in trouble – partly because lenders have tightened access to credit.

Banks nationwide have been reluctant to lend since the financial crisis dried up credit and made almost any loan seem like a risky proposition. The situation’s hit small businesses especially hard.
 
The City of Chicago does make financial resources available to small businesses in need of capital through the Small Business Improvement Fund. The SBIF provides upwards of $50,000 in grant money to owners in select neighborhoods. Owners must be looking to make physical improvements to their business or property. The SBIF is reimbursable; business owners must spend the money up front to qualify for the grant. That proves to be a stumbling block for many operations.
 
One woman who relates with small businesses’ plight is Bernita Johnson-Gabriel. She lives in the South Side’s Bronzeville neighborhood and heads up the Quad Cities Community Development Corporation, a group that provides business support and other services in and around Bronzeville. She says that neighborhood businesses lack capital. In this commentary Johnson-Gabriel explains why she thinks the city should pressure banks to loosen their grip and start lending again.
 
Dear Chicago is a project of WBEZ’s Partnership Program. Bernita Johnson-Gabriel was nominated for the series by the Metropolitan Planning Council.