A lending opportunity is available to residents and businesses operating in Southeast Colorado Springs with the goal of helping prevent crime.

“This is one of the most exciting and innovative approaches to criminal justice reform in the nation,” said Rep. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs. “The Transforming Safety project is an elegant meeting of economic development and crime prevention in communities.”

Last year, state legislators passed HB 17-1326, or the Justice Reinvestment Crime Prevention bill, which created the Transforming Safety program.

The three-year pilot program is annually funded by $4 million in savings from parole reform and includes small business lending and community grants to help transform the safety of Southeast Colorado Springs and North Aurora.

“What we all know and have seen proven by research is that creating educational and economic opportunities can help a community get in front of crime,” Lee, who sponsored the bill, said. “That’s what this project does; it helps rise up these communities and reduce crime.”

The nonprofit Accion manages the small business lending program for Southeast Colorado Springs called the Step Up Loan Fund.

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“The benefit of that loan fund for eligible businesses is that there is an interest rate discount off of our normal pricing,” said Ryan Flanders, a loan officer for Accion. “The limit for a loan when using those state funds is up to $50,000.”

Anyone living in Southeast Colorado Springs who wants to start a business, or already operates a business in the area, is eligible to apply for a loan, which will include a 2 percent reduction on the interest rate if they qualify.

“We’ve had a handful of loans that we have already done through that program since it came online from the state a few months ago,” Flanders said. “We work with businesses in a wide variety of industries, including home-based businesses, construction contractors, retail, food and beverage, food trucks and trucking companies.”

There are a few types of businesses not eligible to apply for funding with the program, such as cannabis, liquor and tobacco stores as well as investment real estate.

“Those are just some of the ones we can’t work with and there are a few more, but really most mainstream businesses can apply for this program,” Flanders said. “It’s a really exciting opportunity for us … We are looking for as many partners as we can find that can help us connect with business owners who would like to apply for a loan.”

The tentative boundaries for eligible loan applicants include zip codes 80909 (below Galley Road), 80910, 80911 and 80916. Loan applications are available on Accion’s website at us.accion.org.

“It’s our normal loan process anyone in Colorado Springs can apply for and then their address will let us know if they qualify for the Transforming Safety funds,” Flanders said.

Meanwhile, in May, the state awarded $1.3 million in Transforming Safety grants to 11 nonprofits in Southeast Colorado Springs, said Eula Tatman, the program officer for grants and donor services at Pikes Peak Community Foundation. The organization partners with The Denver Foundation in managing the grant review process in Southeast Colorado Springs.

“We are currently working with those organizations who received the funds to get their services off the ground and implemented so they will be able to show the difference or impact that they are making after a year,” Tatman said. “We don’t expect total transformation after one year, so they all also have the option to reapply after one year.”

Colorado Springs Works (see page 8) is among the initial nonprofits selected to be awarded funds.

“It’s an organization geared towards working with past offenders and at-risk [populations] up to age 25 that will either help them with their GED, teach them business skills and/or offer a variety of other workshops,” Tatman said. “It’s basically about teaching them skillsets that will help them establish careers and not just get jobs.”

She believes part of transforming safety in a community is helping the local economy by creating new businesses, job opportunities and developing a strong workforce.

“This program has already been successful in that it has created a positive and encouraging atmosphere in Southeast Colorado Springs,” Tatman said.

Colorado Springs City Councilor Yolanda Avila, who was the city’s lead on the Transforming Safety project, said changing her district’s image needs to be a community-wide effort.

“It can’t just be nonprofits trying to do it or just about the businesses and opportunities for them,” she said. “It has to be more comprehensive and that’s what is amazing about the Transforming Safety project because it does just that — it brings everything together to help make Southeast Colorado Springs even better.”

An independent third party will evaluate the Transforming Safety project and the legislature will conduct a sunset review in 2020.

Visit transformingsafety.org for more information.