New Orleans North Carolina may get a bad rap for a lot of things out there and may be seen politically as red through and through, but when it comes to progressive, consumer friendly banking practices; North Carolina has arguably been the showcase state for good rules and regulations over the last number of years. The legislature deserves some credit for passing some of the earliest and best model legislation to curb predatory lending practices and pay day lender operations in the country, and the North Carolina Banking Commissioner Joseph Smith has presided over this operation admirably and been an advocate for more aggressive loan modifications for mortgage holders as well. It’s very good news to read that Smith has been nominated to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency, because we need some of that good North Carolina sauce on the DC barbeque when it comes to wild and weird conversations about the future of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that are part of the Agency domain.
Part of what gives me good feelings about this appointment is the fact that Smith has grown out of soil plowed and tended by the great Self-Help Credit Union and its progeny including the Center for Responsible Lending, which operations on a national level as an advocate and resource for consumers on financial matters. No small amount of this is due to its long time chief and original co-founder, Martin Eakes, who has kept at this vision and expanded it since 1980. I have a special fondness for the Self-Help Credit Union for a number of reasons. It was one of the first “community development” credit unions to rise up and make a difference, and has been a great success story with over 35,000 members and billions in assets now.
Some of the other co-founders included Web Gulley, who along with his brother Dub, were Little Rock natives and in Dub’s case an early ACORN organizer in Arkansas in the 1970’s before moving back to Durham which they fell in love with as Duke students. Their father ran a savings and loan bank in Little Rock, Pulaski Federal Saving, and though it would have shocked the Little Rock power structure to its shoes, because of my good standing with the brothers, his door was always open to me, and he provided the loan which allowed us to buy our first building on 15th Street. He was an old school banker of the rare sort that believed that a bank was about building the whole communities not just pocket lining. I always liked to think that there was a legacy line of connection that ran straight through to Self-Help, even if it’s just sentimental. Web went on to a political and legal career in Durham as Mayor and legislator.
In politics one of the earliest things I learned in Little Rock at the hands of Max Allison, the great political organizer from the 1940’s through 1970’s in Arkansas, was to always look for the “fine hand” behind the headline to see where the influence lies and how something was put together and would work. I have to believe Martin’s fine hand is somewhere behind this appointment. Whether he was pushing from behind the scenes or out front leading the way, doesn’t matter as much as knowing that Smith and the great folks of Self-Help and CRL will know each other by sight when they cross in the halls and be able to offset some of the craziness that Smith will hear in Washington with some good solid, down home advice about making sure that federal housing finance and the siblings, Freddie and Fannie, keep the consumers first and don’t just fall to the bankers and the political winds.
Good job to all of y’all – you don’t get enough props, but you earned this one!