Fifth Third Bank is Pioneering a New Approach to Community Development—One Neighborhood at a Time

Kala Gibson, executive vice president and chief corporate responsibility officer of Fifth Third Bank, remembers the day the grocery store closed in his west Detroit neighborhood. Other businesses followed soon thereafter, including the recreation center and the community pool. When the local bank closed, the neighborhood’s best days were seemingly over. As a first-hand witness to the ways disinvestment can deteriorate a community, Gibson is personally motivated to bring neighborhoods like his own back to life.

Gibson’s Fifth Third Bank is pioneering an innovative new approach to community development called the Empowering Black Futures neighborhood program. It’s a place-based initiative in which the bank partners with a lead community organization in nine neighborhoods to implement their economic development plans. It was piloted in Gibson’s hometown Detroit in the Gratiot & Seven Mile neighborhood known as G7. It was there that the bank tested a significant investment in one place that became a catalyst for change by assembling public and private interests to accomplish a shared goal.

“The beauty of our program is that it’s led by the communities themselves,” said Gibson. “Instead of dictating programs or products in these neighborhoods, we work directly with residents to develop their visions and execute their plans. We make a financial investment, and we also bring our social and intellectual capital to the table to facilitate change.”

Fifth Third made a three-year commitment in 2021 of $180 million, or up to $20 million each, into nine neighborhoods. By the end of year two, Fifth Third had invested $199 million and extended the program through 2025 to ensure program sustainability.

The program has five goals: create equitable and connected systems, improve residents’ upward mobility, build an inclusive civic infrastructure, promote small businesses, and develop healthy built environments. The neighborhoods are Avondale in Cincinnati; South Chicago in Chicago; Buckeye in Cleveland; East Tampa in Tampa; Grove Park in Atlanta; Arlington Woods in Indianapolis; West End in Charlotte; Near East Side in Columbus; and Russell in Louisville. The bank also remains committed to G7 in Detroit. The neighborhoods were selected through a criteria-based application process managed by Enterprise Community Partners. The national nonprofit’s mission-based consultancy also provides technical assistance to the neighborhoods.

Angela Hurlock of Claretian Associates, Fifth Third’s community partner in South Chicago, said the bank is helping make South Chicago a “community of choice rather than a community of last resort.” Thanks to Fifth Third, Claretian Associates resurrected a homeownership initiative that went dormant in 2007. The organization completed construction of two buildings that today provide affordable rental homes to four middle-income families working towards homeownership. And that’s just phase one. Phase two includes the construction of 15 new homes to help those in South Chicago seeking homeownership opportunities.

Success stories like these abound. In the West End in Charlotte, Fifth Third provided a $1.1 million program-related investment to spur development of the Historic National Carr Senior Apartments, an affordable housing development that is enabling seniors to age in place. In Near East Side in Columbus, the bank’s investment in a minority depository institution called Adelphi Bank is opening the doors of economic opportunity. Fifth Third’s social capital enabled a local minority-owned business in the Avondale neighborhood of Cincinnati to get a $10,000 equipment-based grant from a major hospital.

The program also engages Fifth Third employees. In Grove Park in Atlanta, employees hosted a community night and volunteered for neighborhood cleanup activities. They ran food drives and stocked the pantry, assembled meal boxes, and cleaned The Grocery Spot, the free pantry.

“Our neighborhood program is an extension of Fifth Third,” Gibson said. “Our purpose is to improve lives and the well-being of our communities. The program enables us to live our purpose in a meaningful, inclusive, and sustainable way.”

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