Qualified members of area congregations who need financial assistance for anything from home repairs to summer camp now will have an easier time getting an interest-free loan, thanks to a new collaboration between the Hebrew Free Loan Association and the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinical Association.
The HFLA of Pittsburgh is not on everyone’s radar despite its century-old history of addressing financial crises and needs in the community. The organization had its start in 1886, when five men at a Hill District congregation had money left over from the congregation’s appeal and lent the money interest-free to a struggling single mother. The HFLA was chartered one year later, and the nonsectarian nonprofit has been aiding residents of Allegheny County ever since.
The HFLA offers interest-free loans regardless of religion, race, age, national origin, gender, or sexual orientation provided that the borrower has a source of income and has a co-signor with good credit who owns property.
It is the co-signor requirement, which serves as the “safety net” for the HFLA, that creates a barrier for some would-be borrowers, according to Aviva Lubowsky, the director of client and community relations for the HFLA.
The GPRA is seeking to remove that barrier for congregants through the creation of a new fund that will serve as a co-signor for those who do not have one.
The HFLA loans up to $10,000; the GPRA will guarantee up to $2,500 and possibly more in the future.
The idea of creating the GPRA fund came to Rabbi Barbara AB Symons, spiritual leader of Temple David of Monroeville, when she heard about a similar fund that the interfaith nonprofit Circles of Greater Pittsburgh had created with the HFLA to help people out of poverty through serving as a co-signor to loans.
“I thought, ‘What a great idea,’” Symons said. “I thought, ‘Wait a minute. We can do this in the Jewish community.’”
Symons brought the idea to the GPRA, where all who were present agreed to participate, she said.
“The rabbis who have mitzvah funds or discretionary funds are contributing,” Symons said. “All of us are encouraging our congregants to help contribute to this, and many of us are contributing our own funds toward this.”
One feature of the HFLA program that appeals to Symons is the fact that all the money that goes out to help clients eventually comes back into the organization through repayment.
“The money keeps giving,” she said.
“It keeps coming back in.”
Symons hopes the publicity in congregational newsletters will help raise awareness of the HLFA.
“I don’t know how well my congregants know about [the HFLA],” she said. “This new fund will not only help them use it, but it will bring heightened awareness by just putting it in the bulletin so people know it’s available.”
In some cases, Symons said, a borrower can apply for a loan from the HFLA and “walk out that day with a check.” Having such quick access to funds can be crucial for a family needing to make a summer camp deposit immediately in order to get the early bird rate, for example.
“Hebrew Free Loan is not just for needy people,” said Rabbi Aaron Bisno, president of the GPRA, in a statement. “We know that double-income families on relatively solid financial ground can still be hit by major expenses. If they need a loan, we want them to call HFLA and access that interest-free money.”
Lubowsky agreed that one does not have to be “needy” to qualify for a loan.
“This is really an organization to help anyone,” she said, adding that HFLA makes about 100 loans a year and that the organization “says yes to 98 percent of our applicants.”
The HFLA has made loans to help consolidate debt and to pay off student loans, according to Lubowsky.
While the organization is funded in part by grants, most of its funds come from individual donors.
For more information, go to hflapgh.org
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.