New credit union seeks real change for north Minneapolis economy

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Minneapolis is celebrating the launch of a credit union that hopes to make real change in the northside economy.

The Village Financial Cooperative is the first credit union approved in Minnesota in 15 years, and on Monday, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey reiterated his pledge to put half a million dollars into getting it off the ground.

Me’Lea Connelly’s mission began two years ago in the wake of the police killing of Philando Castile. The purpose was to do something to improve the lives of African Americans. She decided that improving economic conditions was the best approach.

There is no simple way to help transform a community, but Connelly has high hopes this will become a major building block.

“Once we establish that and it’s in a place that’s solid and solvent, then we can start asking other questions about what other foundational elements are needed in order to undergird an economic renaissance,” she said.

The co-op is already in operation in Near North, offering low interest loans to pledged-members with 100 percent repayment.

It is now pending federal approval.

“I believe this could make a difference because it’s a real thing. This is not just another governmental agency, this is not just another non-profit with an interesting philosophy,” Mayor Frey said.

In a news conference to congratulate the approval, the council approved a half-million dollar investment in Village Financial.

In lower-income communities, check cashing and payday loan businesses with high fees are abundant, resulting in a low percentage of home ownership. Now, Village Financial hopes to spark more home buying and more business start-ups through a new economic ecosystem. 

“We’re taking models that have worked both locally and nationally and making sure we’re learning the lessons of past generations and using the best methods possible,” Connelly said.