power. To boost business with minority and low-income households, $7.8 billion- asset Centura has built a community-centered banking program around churches and their congregations. The program combines educational and marketing efforts with special projects and services. One of the company's newest offerings is a lending-education program for churches, focusing on legal and accounting measures that can help congregants borrow and invest. Rocky Mount, N.C.-based Centura, which operates in the Carolinas and Virginia, is holding a "faith-based lending" seminar today to launch the initiative. The program was designed by P.T. & Associates, a community development consulting company based in Columbus, Ohio. A mortgage loan project to help low-income applicants get credit counseling and clean up debts is the key feature of the program. Centura is extending mortgage loans with special terms, including a separate loan that can be used for the down payment. Kevin G. Harris, Centura's community development manager, said the program, which began in February, has drawn 1,500 applicants, most of whom are still in credit counseling. The program has gone a long way, he said, toward establishing a bond between Centura and a population that has long mistrusted the banking community. "Credit is what is stopping these congregants from being homeowners," Mr. Harris said. "We decided that if credit is the issue, and banks provide credit, then we don't have an issue." In this program, he said, "people are approved based on cash flow, not on credit. We look at what they can afford and we forgive credit issues. If they complete the counseling program, then they will get a mortgage." Borrowers pay 100 basis points higher than a conventional mortgage, Mr. Harris said. Janice Little, a spokeswoman for Mount Zion Christian Church in Durham, N.C., and a church liaison for the Centura program, said her 1,000-member congregation was enthusiastic about the program. "Nobody else has ever even given them the opportunity of even dreaming of owning a home," she said. "This is a special program. It will have an impact."
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