CommonBond Helps Residents Build Credit and Find Living-Wage Employment
Four years ago, Nadifo, Somali immigrant living in St. Paul, Minnesota, had only a part-time minimum-wage job and no credit history. An employment and financial coach at Skyline Tower, an affordable apartment building managed and owned by CommonBond Communities, set Nadifo on the path to a better financial future.
CommonBond, a member of SAHF, provides residents at many sites in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa with adult education and employment services. That personal attention is a big advantage, explains Claudia Wasserman, employment program manager for CommonBond.
At workforce centers elsewhere in the Twin Cities, job seekers often work individually at a computer to search for leads, she notes. “And a lot of our residents are not computer literate and not fluent in English, either.”
That was the case for Nadifo. “She didn’t know how to create a resume or have access to a computer or know how to apply for jobs online,” recalls Ayan Hussein, an employment and financial coach at Skyline.
Nadifo’s English was limited, too. But Hussein speaks three East African languages, including Somali. She was able to interview Nadifo in her native language about her work history, including her current janitorial job which employed her very few hours per week.
Through a series of appointments, Hussein helped Nadifo write a resume, conduct an on-line job search for a better position, and practice responding to common interview questions in English.
The practice paid off. Nadifo was able to land a $9.50 an hour part-time job with a major retailer as a sales associate, which still left her time to attend ESL classes at a nearby adult education center.
Last year, CommonBond helped low-income residents across its sites find 322 jobs. In Minnesota, hourly pay for CommonBond residents averaged $12.81.
Next, Hussein talked to Nadifo about the importance of good credit. Finding that she lacked a credit history, Hussein secured her a $240 credit builder loan from the Metropolitan Consortium of Community Developers. Nadifo was able to pay the interest-free loan back at $20 monthly, and her credit score rose to over 600 within six months. With good credit, she was able to qualify for a retail credit card and raise her score further.
Good credit is increasingly important, Wasserman observed: it can lower insurance rates, reassure prospective employers, and make it possible to finance a home or rent an apartment when an affordable housing resident is ready to move elsewhere. CommonBond’s financial coaches helped more than 100 residents with their credit scores in 2016. Those with no prior credit history reached an average score of 658, according to the most recent data, while others raised their credit scores by an average of more than 50 points.
An onsite employment and financial coach makes residents’ long-term progress more likely. By 2016, Nadifo had a good work record at the retailer and improved English skills. She was ready to search for a full-time job with benefits. With Hussein’s help, she landed one as a school van driver, a job that pays $15 an hour. Today her credit score is in the “excellent” range, approaching 800.