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New credit unions aim to serve minorities, poor

Three groups in the Tampa Bay area are taking steps to use credit unions to expand access to credit in minority and poor communities.

Two of the groups aim to start their own credit unions. The third plans to open a branch of an existing credit union on the edge of east Tampa.

Many people in minority and lower-income communities have long been frustrated in efforts to obtain loans and banking services from conventional banks and thrifts. Their neighborhoods typically have few, if any, branches.

And study after study has found that minorities, especially African-Americans, are more likely to see their loan applications rejected than white people are, even when applicants have comparable incomes.

In cities across the country, community credit unions have emerged as a strategy for fighting these problems.

Of the three local groups, one is the closest to actually taking deposits and making loans.

This group _ an alliance between Central Florida Credit Union and Tampa Hillsborough Action Plan _ already has identified a site for its office on Hillsborough Avenue in Tampa, said Ed Gallagly, Central Florida's president.

If all goes as planned, the office will open in August and will begin providing a full menu of banking services, from check cashing to loans, he said.

The other two groups haven't come as far.

One, led by St. Petersburg businessman Daniel Davis, has submitted an application to state regulators, said Art Simon, director of banking for the state comptroller.

But, as is normal in this process, regulators have requested additional information. That information hasn't yet been received, so it's impossible to say when the application might be approved, Simon said.

If it is approved, Davis' group will launch the Consortia Community Credit Union in St. Petersburg. It will focus on lending to low- and middle-income people in the part of Pinellas County south of the Howard Frankland Bridge.

Davis declined to comment on his group's plans, saying he preferred to wait until the regulators had completed their review.

The third group, headed by the Rev. Arthur Jones, is still working to assemble a business plan and application, though it has already raised its seed money.

Jones, pastor of the Bible-Based Fellowship Church in Tampa, has been receiving help from the MacDill Federal Credit Union and its president, Bob Fisher.

Fisher, who is assisting in preparation of the business plan, said Jones' group expects to receive regulatory approval by October. Jones couldn't be reached for comment.

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