YWCA, 1915 N. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, formally announced the program at a recent open house.
“Ways to Work provides access to affordable loans for reliable transportation that can help individuals keep both their work life and home life stable,” said Jennifer de Montmollin, chief program officer for economic empowerment at YWCA .
The program dovetails with many of the YWCA’s existing economic empowerment programs, according to Shelby Borchardt, who manages Ways to Work .
“We had the opportunity to become a service provider,” said Borchardt, adding that the process took about a year. “We just knew that this would work perfectly with our mission.”
Ways to Work, a national community lending institution based in Milwaukee, operates in 22 states. Funding for the launch of the Milwaukee program was provided by Walmart Foundation, Caterpillar Foundation, Guaranty Bank, Helen Bader Foundation, State Farm Insurance Foundation, and United Way of Greater Milwaukee.
The program specifically targets families with credit or financial difficulties and dependent children. For families trying to become more self-sufficient, the loans can provide the “perfect next step” in repairing credit or gaining better employment, Borchardt said.
The loans also help people avoid having to take prohibitively expensive loans from predatory lenders, which is a common situation faced by YWCA clients, according to Borchardt.
“It’s a very large issue,” Borchardt said. “With poor credit, some of our clients might otherwise receive loans at 25-30 percent. We loan at a blanket 8 percent rate.”
YWCA’s program has been in operation since July and has provided several loans for people to purchase new cars, according to Borchardt.
Miranda Vogelmann, 20, purchased a 2006 Saturn Ion with an $8,000 loan from the program. A single mom, she needed a car to get to school and to her job as an in-home certified nursing assistant for senior citizens. She also has to drive her 2-year-old daughter to day care.
Vogelmann met with Borchardt, who went over her finances to make sure she could afford the car payments. Before she purchased the vehicle from one of the recommended dealerships, Vogelmann took it to an independent mechanic for an inspection, a requirement of the loan program.
“[Ways to Work] made sure you were getting a safe reliable car that will start for you in the morning and not break down,” she said.
Vogelmann has been driving the car for about two months, and she is delighted with it. “I’ve had no problems at all,” she added.
Ways to Work has received approximately 300 applications from across the county so far.
The loans are intended for individuals who earn at or below 80 percent of median income for the county, or a maximum of about $35,000 per year. They need to have worked at least three months for more than 20 hours a week and meet other specific criteria. Each applicant is carefully evaluated and is required to take a financial education class.
Education is a major component of the program, and many of the approximately 150 applicants currently in the classes found them as useful as the potential loan, Borchardt said.
“It opened me to things I didn’t need to spend money on, like trips to McDonald’s,” said Vogelmann.
After applicants go over their household budget with Borchardt, an anonymous loan committee decides whether to approve the loan, which can be up to $8,000 for a car purchase or $1,500 for a repair.
Borchardt believes the program could grow as demand increases. “There’s definitely the need,” Borchardt said. “We’ll do whatever we can to make sure it’s being met.”
For her part, Vogelmann said, “I would recommend the program to everyone. They didn’t just hand me a loan. I had to prove to them that I could do this. And once I got approved for it, they made sure I was in a safe car and I got something that would last.”