For the past 12 years, the El Paso Affordable Housing CUSO has been helping families improve their financial situation. Formed by eight El Paso-based credit unions, this CDFI-certified institution empowers financially underserved communities with the ability to develop family wealth and economic and financial stability.
“Many people in underserved communities turn to predatory financial service providers for basic financial transactions, and this greatly hinders their ability to create any sort of wealth for themselves or for their families,” notes Luis Caballero, family asset development manager with the CUSO.
According to Caballero, the CUSO’s main initiatives involve providing comprehensive bilingual financial education and financial assistance to El Paso families wishing to purchase a home.
“The CUSO promotes housing opportunities to community members who would otherwise be unable to become homeowners,” he says.
Caballero says the CUSO works with local credit unions to provide weekly financial education and homeownership workshops. Some of the topics discussed during the workshops include budgeting, saving, credit management, fair housing, avoiding predatory lending, and education on taxes. The CUSO also works with several local credit unions to develop products that provide low-income families with alternatives to predatory loans and financial services.
Additionally, the CUSO promotes Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites. At VITA sites, taxpayers who earn $50,000 or less can have their taxes prepared free of charge. The CUSO is the lead agency in a local coalition of several non-profit and community based organizations that operate 21 VITA sites throughout El Paso County.
Several credit unions in El Paso provide annual support to operate the VITA sites. This past tax filing season, the coalition consisting of the CUSO, credit unions, and local non-profits, prepared over 6,000 tax returns and more than $10 million came back to the community in the form of tax refunds.
“The VITA sites are important because they save families hundreds of dollars in tax preparation fees, assure that families receive all the tax credit s that they qualify for, and allows families to use the tax refund as a down payment for their home purchase,” Caballero says.
The CUSO, Caballero adds, is just one example of how credit unions can partner and together have a greater impact in the communities they serve.