Archive | CEF Research & Publications

2018 Orange County Affordable Housing Summit Report

In February, over 175 community leaders showed up to the Orange County Affordable Housing Summit last to learn about the state of the affordable housing crisis! It was an amazing opportunity to build a shared understanding and collaborate in developing real solutions to increase housing access and affordability in this community!

This month, the official Summit Report was released by the Orange County Affordable Housing Coalition. It’s an amazing resource that summarizes learning from the 2018 Summit, including the current state of affordable housing in Orange County, potential solutions to the affordable housing crisis, and information from community partners on affordable housing projects! Learn more at .


CEF at the 2016 Asset Learning Conference in DC

ALC Selfie
Highlights of our lessons learned, big ideas, and big takeaways!

CEF’s Program Coordinator and Operations Coordinator, Maggie West and Jon Young, rode the Megabus up to DC last month to attend the Assets Learning Conference, hosted by our friends and partners at CFED. Here’s a peek at what got us excited and where we’re taking those ideas next!

Ideas for Better Safe Safe Savings Accounts

  • The Five Friday Month: A simple but catalytic idea from JPMorgan & Chase Institute on Income Volatility! During a month with five Fridays, many households have more expendable income than they do in a typical month. How can we leverage that in CEF’s matched savings programs to encourage increased savings during that time in the calendar?
  • Gamifying Savings: Simple immediate incentives like congratulatory and animated texts can go a long way to reinforcing positive savings behaviors. Gamification of savings is a hot topic too, with exciting work by Commonwealth. Let’s implement these simple incentives!
  • Multi-Generational Saving: So many spaces lifted the importance of whole-family, multi-generational supports, and so many spaces talked about the promise of Children’s Savings Accounts, which got us thinking. What if we could collaborate with fellow providers locally to be able to connect members to Children’s Savings Accounts
  • Kickstarting Savings: We were inspired by CFPB and’s exploration of saving account structures that incentivize deposits in the initial opening months. What if we explored adding in savings account structures that encourage initial deposits towards a ‘starter’ or monthly goal. Habits of savings could be kickstarted by a goal CEF members can reach in a short amount of time (1-3 months).


Models for Collaboration that improve the financial well-being of lower-resource households:

Financial Empowerment through Municipalities

    • Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund emphasizes that financial empowerment services should be provided as a public service by municipalities. Financial counselors one-on-one supports available writ-large, and the city contracts with nonprofit organizations to implement the program. Evaluation results coming shortly, but all signs point to fantastic outcomes!
  • Credit Building through Rent Reporting:
    • AHC, Inc. of Greater Baltimore has integrated financial coaching, incentivized savings, incentivized automatic bill-pay, and rent reporting for their tenants
  • Partner with Public Utility companies to offer credit and cash-flow coaching!
    • In the LIFT-UP Model utility companies worked closely with financial empowerment centers to refer customers who were behind on their water bill specifically in order to avoid late fees, reconnect fees, or other fees. Evaluation showed a reduction in overall debt and an increase in on-time payments from participants.


From Crisis to Financial Stability

CEF’s Maggie West presented on a panel for “From Crisis to Financial Stability” at the conference!

Financial apps are “in,” and CEF has some cool tools to add to the mix!

  • Lots of apps (#fintech) are being rolled out to make financial coaching and saving more accessible to providers and consumers alike. In the context of the larger, nationally scaled world of apps, CEF’s ability to create technological solutions that are hyper-relevant to our local community (like is rare and valuable.

Invaluable research and analysis about :

  • According to a Federal Reserve Survey, about 46 percent of Americans said they did not have enough money to cover a $400 emergency expense. Our Safe Savings Accounts and Renter’s Savings Accounts have even more relevance than we could have guessed! Almost half of households in the country could benefit from this targeted and structured opportunity to save towards both short-term and longer-term goals.
  • 60% of US households receive their income not on a monthly schedule (e.g. weekly or bi-weekly) while 60% of household expenses are billed on a monthly basis. This fundamental mismatch exacerbates household financial insecurity. This mismatch leads to opportunity in our financial coaching in terms of how we support members in cash-flow budgeting. For example, if members receive their income bi-monthly, bi-monthly payments of bills might make more sense for their cash flow.
  • The Ever-Growing Gap details the need for transformative policy change in order to truly end the racial wealth divide, showing that if we continue at similar rates to date, “Black families would not reach wealth parity with White households until the year 2241.” 228 years! Read the report to learn more about CFED’s policy recommendations.

So many ideas, sessions, and conversations inspired us to deeper reflection and thoughtful action…. far too many to name here! Moreover, the opportunity to connect with groups from all over the country who share our commitment to improving financial well-being through creative and responsive strategies was reinvigorating and exciting!


Board of Directors Approves 3-Year Strategic Plan

Click here to read a summary of CEF’s 2016-2018 Strategic Plan

After almost a year of meetings with the Board of Directors, the Alumni Advisory Council, Advocates, Members, and Staff CEF is pleased to present the “signed, sealed, and delivered” summary of our 2016-2018 three-year strategic plan. As a blueprint for our future growth and development, over the next three years we plan to:

✓ Work with partners to further integrate financial services into shelters, workforce development, and housing services

✓ Improve our ability to provide holistic support to members

✓ Solidify and strengthen job partnerships to help members achieve satisfactory employment

✓ Promote sustainable transitions into housing that keep members in stable housing

✓ And ensure that we stay happy and healthy as an organization to continue to serve members effectively

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CEF’s Guiding Principles

These guiding principles were collectively discerned by a group of Members, Advocates, staff, and board members in the Spring of 2015 and updated in June 2020. They are a statement of our values as an organization and serve as a compass to guide us in our work.

People-Centered Relationships

We appreciate and value our differences and are committed to building relationships based on mutual respect and trust. In doing so, we foster a non-judgmental, welcoming, and safe environment focused on relationships that empower individuals.

Active Reflection and Co-Learning

We cultivate an environment where Advocates, Members, and staff learn from each other. We create organizational space to critically reflect on and improve our work.

Participatory Ownership

We — Members, Advocates, staff, and board — share ownership of CEF and achieve our organization’s goals through collaborative decision-making. We are specifically committed to centering the voices and leadership of people of lived experience with homelessness and poverty and Black members of our community.

Financial Independence

We work together towards sustainable financial security and economic equity for all members of our community and are actively working to end the racial wealth gap

Community in Power

We contextualize our efforts within systems of power and through Member and Advocate experiences. We are committed to racial and social justice and pursue local community-level change.

Welcoming Connectors

We are committed to cultivating an open network of values-aligned people and organizations to holistically serve Members’ goals.

Quality and Accountability

CEF strives to be an interconnected and transparent organization that gives and receives feedback for mutual accountability, to ensure quality in all that it does.


“The Power of Housing Programs to Build Financial Capability”

By Donna Carrington,
Original Published here on

A common assumption is that financial coaching is not a good fit for clients who are in crisis. Community Empowerment Fund (CEF) assists clients facing a housing crisis (i.e., at risk for homelessness or are already homeless), and our philosophy of financial coaching contradicts this assumption. We believe that financial capability, an empathetic and empowering one-on-one relationship, and creative savings plans allow for ongoing coaching, even during times of crisis.

CEF’s philosophy of financial coaching is a three-pronged approach. To begin, we offer classes for financial capability called Opportunity Classes in which our members have the opportunity to gain knowledge about general financial information and can use the knowledge to make more educated and informed decisions about their situation. The subject matter includes credit reports and scores, job readiness (resume building, interview skills, etc.) and the banking industry (e.g., credit unions versus regular banks). These classes allow our members to gain financial knowledge and make informed choices about their self-defined goals.

The second prong of CEF’s approach is the advocate-member relationship. Our advocates are volunteers—mostly undergraduate students—who work in two-person teams along with a member (the person experiencing the housing crisis). The relationship lasts for as long as the member wants to continue working on their various goals, which are completely member-driven. Throughout this time, an empathetic and collaborative rapport is built between all involved. The member feels they are in the driver’s seat and therefore “drive” the partnership. The advocates are therefore the supportive body of the relationship. This way of coaching is especially helpful in crisis because all parties involved can brainstorm possible solutions together and come up with a plan based on the member’s choice.

There are times in this advocate-member relationship when financial education also occurs. For example, a member may need an advocate to walk them through the process of acquiring and learning to read a credit report. Having this information during a crisis could help the member decide whether it is time to fix credit issues that could be adversely affecting their housing situation. Paying off an eviction or handling credit card issues to gain a better credit score in order to qualify for renting a home would be something an advocate and member could work on together. Scheduling subsequent meetings with the member and holding them accountable to establishing their own goals in crisis is also a key component to the advocate-member relationship, and allows us to work together on addressing both the short-term crisis and longer-term dreams.

The third prong of CEF’s financial coaching approach involves establishing savings goals and offering a financial matching amount if the goal is achieved. The advocates or CEF’s Savings Program Associates can walk a member through the process of establishing a savings goal. For a majority of our clients, the goal towards new and sustainable housing is the most immediate goal. We base this goal around many factors, including size and kind of housing needed, what the security deposit would be, deposits for utilities and various other factors. As a former member, this process really helped me to get an accurate picture of how much it would take for me to obtain a home of my own, including calculating the income I would need to maintain this housing. I also learned to set a reasonable goal based on what I needed to save and which savings plan would allow me to feel comfortable to do so. Not everyone in crisis is ready to set such a large goal. As such, we are able to set smaller, less time-intensive goals in order for people to become accustomed to saving regularly and experience the reward of accomplishing their goal. We build savings plans with our members that are appropriate to their unique budget constraints and that leverage our community’s resources, and we connect members directly with reliable, affordable accounts with area financial institutions. All of the ways we work with members on achieving their savings goals are applicable even in times of crisis because members are in the driver’s seat and they are learning to establish new, financially informed behavior within the framework of empathetic support.

Community Empowerment Fund’s financial coaching approach has shown to be very effective to the clientele in our area, even in times of crisis. The Opportunity Classes, the member-advocate partnership, and the ways we set savings goals and use savings plans make CEF a key component in educating and supporting our members in building financial capability, while making CEF a driving force in the ongoing fight to help end homelessness in our area.


“The Community Empowerment Fund: A Matched Savings Model as an Innovative Approach to Housing the Homeless"

Journal of PovertyResearchers examine an innovative new program’s ability to help people experiencing homelessness attain and retain permanent housing through asset building and access to financial services.

Peer-reviewed, published article available through the Journal of Poverty: Special Issue on Housing the Homeless

By: Alexandra Biggers, Maggie West, Allison De Marco (UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute), Jess Dorrance and Kim Manturuk (UNC Center for Community Capital).

Prevention efforts, rapid rehousing, and housing-first approaches have been major contributors in addressing homelessness. However, budget cuts may jeopardize these gains. The objective of this article is to use administrative data to examine an innovative new program’s ability to assist those experiencing homelessness to attain and retain permanent housing through asset building and access to financial services to build a more financially secure future. Results suggest that this program does foster savings and the attainment of permanent housing. Implications for policy and practice are discussed.

Using Local Microfinance to Assist Transitions Out of Homelessness: Report on the Pilot Launch of the CEF

By: Maggie West, (UNC Class of 2010) for Office of Undergraduate Research, Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship. This report documents CEF’s initial pilot launch as a microfinance program in 2009, exploring case studies of our first members and lessons learned which informed CEF’s future programmatic shifts and development.  View Here

CEF: Community Empowerment Fund

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