Help on the Way

by Mary Tutwiler

IberiaBank makes historic $100 million investment in SMHA.

Taylor Barras, president of the New Iberia and community markets of IberiaBank and manager of the company's Community Reinvestment Strategies, is the lead spokesman for the bank's Feb. 15 announcement of a massive $100 million investment in rebuilding rural Louisiana. "IberiaBank is committed to rebuilding a strong and prosperous Louisiana," Barras says of the pledge to Iberia Parish non-profit Southern Mutual Help Association Inc. The announcement came only one week after the banker confirmed his candidacy for state representative in District 48, which encompasses the city of New Iberia. "This can best be done when our hard-working families and our rural communities devastated by hurricanes know they can rebuild their lives," says Barras.

IberiaBank and Southern Mutual Help Association have a long history of working together to help end poverty. The first time they collaborated, in 1989, the bank pledged $50,000 in loans for housing to rural self-help organizations under SMHA's wing. The relationship was a good match: the low-interest loans guaranteed by SMHA rarely defaulted, and people without the funds to put a down payment on a house suddenly found themselves first-time homeowners. In 2000, SMHA created a partner nonprofit, Southern Mutual Financial Services Inc., as a community development financial institution. IberiaBank pledged $10 million to SMFS on Aug. 25, 2005, four days before Hurricane Katrina hit.

Thirty-seven years of experience in developing housing for the poor put SMHA in a unique position to move swiftly following the storms, and it immediately began helping Louisiana communities rebuild through private funding. That success led to IberiaBank's latest investment. "It is a blessing to have businesses that care, and IberiaBank is a shining example of the best," says SMHA Executive Director Lorna Bourg. "I believe theirs to be the largest investment by a bank in a not-for-profit community development corporation in Louisiana's history."