Thwarting Payday Lenders at the
By Elizabeth Duffrin
Payday loans had long been a financial sinkhole for the working poor of the Rio Grande Valley.
But in the mid-2000s, storefront lenders with names like EZ Money, Speedy Cash and Advance America suddenly seemed everywhere — in strip malls next to the beauty supply store, off the highway exit ramp across from the Burger King.
One enterprising lender in Brownsville, Texas even converted an old Shell gas station into a loan center with a drive-up window so patrons could reach for their cash without even leaving their cars, says Nick Mitchell-Bennett, executive director of the Community Development Corporation of Brownsville. "It's got neon lights and looks like an old 50's drive-in. It's amazing."
One Wednesday morning in 2006, Mitchell-Bennett was sitting in a conference room at Chase Bank in Brownsville, drinking coffee from paper cups with a group of other community-minded professionals. The group included the assistant general manager of a public utility board, a professor from the University of Brownsville, two bank vice presidents and the United Way program officer who had organized what they jokingly called their monthly "kaffeeklatsch."
Conversation focused on why life seemed to be getting worse for the poor in the valley, even in a thriving economy, recalls Mitchell-Bennett, who was then the development corporation's deputy director. Among the reasons, he says, "Payday lending quickly rose to the top."