Member Profile: Center for Community Self-Help Helps Communities Generate Wealth

Self-Help is a mission-driven community lender that provides acquisition, construction, and permanent financing to many types of projects, including affordable housing, community facilities, commercial real estate, charter schools, healthy food systems, and renewable energy.  

Self-Help lends nationally within Self-Help’s designated sectors (charter schools, healthy food systems, affordable housing and renewable energy) and in census tracts eligible for New Markets Tax Credits.  They also lend more broadly in their geographic footprint of North Carolina, California, and the areas around Washington-Baltimore-Arlington and Chicago, IL.  

About Self-Help

Located in Durham, North Carolina and founded in 1980, the Center for Community Self-Help (Self-Help) is a community development lender. Self-Help is made up of a number of affiliated organizations under the umbrella of a single organization:


The organization works to create and protect ownership and economic opportunity for minority, women-headed, rural and low-wealth families through home and small business lending. They have provided over $6 billion in financing to help more than 75,000 low-wealth borrowers buy homes, start and build businesses, and strengthen community resources across the country. Self-Help's affiliate, the Center for Responsible Lending, researches and advocates for state and national legislation to address predatory lending practices and policies. 

Supporting Energy Projects

Self-Help has a long history of sustainability efforts, and since 2010 has focused on systematically integrating green initiatives into day-to-day operations, real estate development, and financial products.

Recently they partnered with a large solar developer to finance 25MW of utility scale solar across 8 sites in in North Carolina, including economically distressed locations. The $11 million loan involved a sophisticated mix of partners, including institutional tax credit investors.

In consumer loan products, Self-Help supports the Solarize Durham, Solarize Carrboro, Solarize Asheville programs with a local financing option for program participants. The Solarize Durham and Ashville programs have also partnered with Admiral Bank to offer additional loan options to participants. 

The Energy Loan Fund

Self-Help also participates in the Bank of America Energy Loan Program for Community Development Finance Institutions, enabling them to extend $5 million of energy-efficiency and renewable energy financing for existing buildings. The borrowers benefit from reduced energy bills, while the program benefits by continuously refining ways to connect mission borrowers with greener buildings. For instance, a local foods distributor took advantage of the Energy Loan Fund’s reduced interest rate to be able to install more efficient lighting and chillers as part of the loan for a major facility renovation.

The Energy Loan Fund offers an interest rate discount on the components of the project that add to the energy efficiency of the building. Eligible energy- and water-saving measures are those that go beyond what would be required by code. 

Eligible ELF projects include retrofits for energy efficiency, geothermal, rooftop renewable energy, and water conservation. These include:

  • Systematic energy and water-efficiency investments guided by a qualified energy audit, including lighting, HVAC, insulation and envelope tightening, and other improvements that save energy or water;
  • Systematic energy and water-efficiency investments that meet third party standards such as LEED, Coalition for High Performance Schools, Energy Star, ASHRAE 189, or similar;
  • Other energy-efficiency or water efficiency measures recommended by the project engineer, architect, or general contractor; and
  • Renewable energy installations on rooftops.

Borrowers are required to share monthly electric, gas, and water data via an automated energy dashboard.  There is no cost associated with using the dashboard.

In order to be eligible for the ELF, by the end of 2014:

  1. The renewable energy system must be installed and/or the renovation must be complete,
  2. The project must be occupied, and
  3. The occupants enrolled in the automated energy dashboard program. 

If there are multiple tenants in a building, a representative sample of units totaling at least 30% of the property must be occupied and those tenants must be enrolled in the dashboard program. 

For projects that are good loan prospects likely to be eligible for ELF, Self-Help can subsidize the cost of an energy audit or other form of energy efficiency analysis or modeling for qualified potential borrowers.  Self-Help can pay up to 90% of the cost of an audit or modeling, up to a total of $4,000.  Self-help must approve the auditor or contractor conducting the analysis. 

Projects using ELF funds

Eastern Carolina Organics (ECO) is a farmer-owned business that markets and distributes wholesale Carolina organic farm produce to retailers, restaurants and buying club. They recently transformed a former brownfield site in Durham, NC into a distribution center for the company’s rapidly growing organic produce business and an incubator for like-minded businesses. 

Because ECO’s business depends on refrigerated space for produce, they needed to purchase energy efficient, high-performance refrigeration equipment and efficient heating and air systems. Using the Energy Loan Fund, ECO saved 1.5% on the loan that financed these energy-savings upgrades.

Financing for the $1.75 million expansion came from an array of funders: community lender Self-Help partnered with the Natural Capital Investment Fund and Whole Foods Market's Local Producer Loan Program to extend the loan, while credit enhancements from the federal New Markets Tax Credit program, philanthropic support from the Golden LEAF Foundation and investment from Bank of America helped make the project possible.

Start a project!

Interested in doing a renewable energy or efficiency project? If you’d like to learn more about the Energy Loan Fund or fund a project, contact Melissa Malkin-Weber, Sustainability Director.