• George Cook

Honeycomb Credit and the URA announce PGH LIFTS program to bring crowdfinanced investment to Pittsbu

We are thrilled to announce that Honeycomb Credit will be partnering with the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) to help locally owned businesses improve their storefronts through a first-of-its-kind public-private partnership.

This partnership called the LIFTS (Local Investment for Tomorrow’s Streetscapes) program will make the URA’s Streetface Renovation Program financially accessible to more small businesses, while simultaneously allowing community members to invest in the revitalization of their neighborhoods. Together, we are unlocking the potential of our local business districts.

Through the Streetface Renovation Program, the URA currently encourages storefront improvements by offering businesses and property owners a forgivable loan that covers 40% of improvements to businesses exterior. To expand the program and make it available to more local businesses, Honeycomb Credit will use its crowdfinancing platform to help businesses find the private matching funds necessary to take participate in the URA’s program.

LIFTS is made possible by Honeycomb Credit’s admission to the highly selective PGH Lab 4.0 cohort. PGH Lab is an initiative by the City of Pittsburgh launched in 2016 that creates partnerships between civic-minded startups and government departments to make the Pittsburgh municipal government more efficient, transparent, and innovative.

LIFTS will introduce an unprecedented level of community participation in local streetface renovation, a process that previously only included the government and the business or property owner. Honeycomb Credit is realizing a future where small businesses’ exterior renovation projects are financed from the grassroots level and community wealth is built one facade and one business at a time.

Why is LIFTS so cool? Let’s backtrack. Facade improvement programs are created by governments or nonprofit entities to encourage property owners to improve the exterior appearance of their buildings. Governments and nonprofits often provide grants and forgivable loans that partially fund the construction, making it easier for business owners to improve their storefronts and the overall vitality of the commercial corridor.

3623 Butler St. in Lawrenceville, before and after streetface renovation

Currently, Pittsburgh URA’s Streetface Renovation Program provides a forgivable loan that covers 40% of facade improvement costs, up to a maximum of $30,000. This program has transformed the commercial vitality of over 20 buildings in the city.

However, even with this generous city program, taking on a facade improvement project is still unattainable for many small business owners. According to the URA, the average project requires around $55,000 of private investment on top of the URA's forgivable loan.

For the average small business, $55,000 is a steep price to pay upfront, even if business is going great. This means that a business owner's participation in the URA's current program is contingent on their personal assets and the quality of the financing opportunities at their disposal. But when fair small business loans are hard to attain across the board, most small businesses can't finance a facade improvement. The commercial corridors that would most benefit from facade improvements don't have access to the credit opportunities necessary to get them. That is why we’re partnering with the URA to launch LIFTS, the first ever crowd-financed facade improvement matching program. The URA will continue to cover 40% of the cost, but this time, business owners have the opportunity to finance the remaining 60% of costs through Honeycomb Credit's platform. By enabling business owners to borrow loans directly from their customers, neighbors, and community, our LIFTS program will make facade improvements more financially accessible to Pittsburgh businesses.

More than just a facade... We're launching our partnership to help more local businesses get fair financing to improve their facades, but together we will offer so much more. Our partnership will introduce an unprecedented level of community participation in local streetface renovation, a process that previously only included the government and the business or property owner. Pittsburgh residents will feel a new sense of pride and ownership over their streets. They'll be able to point to a renovated building in their neighborhood and say, "The community came together to make that happen." The sense of ownership is not purely psychological either; community members who help finance these improvements can earn competitive rates of return from a revitalization project already supported by the city government. This brings up the second implication. PGH LIFTS makes it easier for the city government to align local private dollars with the priorities of the public sector. Through this partnership, we hope to direct more private dollars to commercial corridors and small businesses that larger, more distant investors and financial institutions would rarely consider investing in, becoming a tool for community-driven development. Let’s imagine Pittsburgh as a city where our favorite small businesses are able to improve their facade with fair financing borrowed from their supporters. Let’s imagine Pittsburgh as a city where economic development is financed from the grassroots level and community wealth is built one facade and one business at a time. Now let’s make it happen. LIFTS will launch in early 2019 to support Pittsburgh small businesses!

Pumped about these streetface renovations? Learn more about LIFTS here!

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