The Press-Enterprise
By Brian Whitehead

LaTrae Lewis’ two-bedroom house in San Bernardino is shaded by a couple of the large trees lining narrow Sepulveda Avenue.

Away from the bustle of main streets and freeways, the mother of two can let her children play in the front yard without worry. Her dog has more grass in the back than it knows what to do with.

Just over a year ago, Lewis, a San Bernardino County employee, feared buying such a home was unattainable.

Thanks to many, it wasn’t.

More first-time homebuyers in communities of color and low-income neighborhoods will have access to lending, banking and investment services after Michigan’s Flagstar Bank announced the acquisition of eight Desert Community Bank branches in San Bernardino County – a $600 million investment over a 5-year period.

“We talk today about throwing money out here,” Flagstar President and CEO Alessandro DiNello said, “but what really matters is what we do. We have a strong track record when it comes to serving the community. … Actions speak louder than words.”

At a short ceremony on Lewis’ front lawn Tuesday, officials from a collaborative dedicated to helping first-time homebuyers and small business owners navigate the mortgage loan process spoke to the impact Flagstar’s investment will have on the area’s housing and job markets.

San Bernardino Mayor Carey Davis said the bank’s commitment will improve schools and, in turn, the community.

Through Neighborhood Housing Services of the Inland Empire, Lewis took financial education and credit development courses. The longtime renter received assistance with her down payment and closing costs, and escaped much of the stress associated with buying a home for the first time.

A year ago this month, she moved into her forever home off Sepulveda Avenue.

By acquiring eight Desert Community Bank branches in San Bernardino County, Flagstar vows to boost access to homebuying resources in communities of need. Also, at least 50 percent of the bank’s annual California deposits will go toward programs that serve low-to-moderate-income neighborhoods.

Partners in this endeavor include the California Reinvestment Coalition and The Greenlining Institute.

“A bank is only as strong as the people and the community it serves,” said Clemente Mojica, president and CEO of Neighborhood Partnership Housing Services, an Inland Empire nonprofit helping families attain affordable housing.

“This sets the bar high for other banks.”