Vista Bank is opening a branch in South Dallas as other banks attempt to increase “community banking”

By Sujata Dand, Senior Editor and Reporter
Dallas, Texas | health care, education, public policy

November 22, 2023

South Dallas

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The last time a bank branch opened in South Dallas was nearly three decades ago. The next one should open in spring 2024, when Vista Bank plans to move into the old Social Security building on 3225 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. – right across the street from Fiesta Supermarket, near Bank of America, and just a couple of blocks away from Chase Bank. 

Community leaders see it as a critical step in lifting financial barriers for South Dallas businesses. 

Harrison Blair, president and CEO of the Dallas Black Chamber of Commerce, says his organization is partnering with Vista Bank to ensure they provide what neighbors want.

“People think partnerships mean that we are going to sign on and be buddy, buddy — take a picture and put your arm around me,” Blair says. ”For us, we are going to be in that picture, but we are going to press you to do things.”

Blair says the Dallas Black Chamber will office in the same building as Vista Bank.

“We believe if we are where our bank is, we are going to bring a lot of businesses in,” he says.

Lubbock Smith is the director of community development and Vista outreach. He was appointed to the Dallas Black Chamber of Commerce’s Board in February. Blair says Smith is charged with leading the operation to serve Black businesses.

Vista Bank will be moving into the old Social Security building on the corner of J.B. Jackson Jr. and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevards. Photo by Sujata Dand

We reached out to Luboock Smith for this story, but he said an interview is premature given Vista Bank has barely started construction on the building.

“Permitting in Dallas — it takes an act of God to get permitting done,” Blair says of the construction delays. “We could wave the finger and point at all of the stuff that hasn’t happened, but we are more interested in actually tearing down where the redline districts are drawn. It may take double the policy and double the engagement to tear it down.”

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Redlining refers to the federal government’s discriminatory practices which denied access to credit and insurance for borrowers in neighborhoods that were predominantly Black. The federal government “red lined” South Dallas in its 1940 map.

In 2020 a WFAA investigation into current redlining practices in Dallas County revealed that there were 474 bank branches above I-30. Southern Dallas had 58.

“You may go to a big box bank like Chase. They may take your money, but they may not make you a loan. We have seen that happen for decades,” Blair says. “If they don’t loan out capital, that makes a big impact.”

In the last few years, Chase Bank has tried to address those concerns by creating a community-inspired model to help Black and Latino neighbors open bank accounts and start businesses. 

“There’s a racial wealth gap in America, and this is one of the ways to help eliminate that,” Terri Thomas says. She was the first community manager for Chase in Texas, and only the second in the nation when Chase created her job in 2020. 

Chase opened the first community-center branch in Texas in Oak Cliff in 2021. It was only the fourth in the nation. The first was in Harlem, New York. 

As vice president of business development, Thomas works to create “financial empowerment” workshops relating to saving, budgeting and building credit, and tailored toward each community. She also leads a mentorship program. In South Dallas, she partners with nonprofits like Bonton Farms and Cornerstone Baptist Church. She says she doesn’t have sales goals — only community goals.  

“I work with the folks in the community that have the cred. They have the credibility in the community to share the information and spread the word,” Thomas says.

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Chase doesn’t have community-level data to determine how effective community banking has been, however Thomas says the Special Purpose Credit Program, which launched last year to improve access to credit for small business owners in historically underserved Black and Brown areas, has been effective. 

The program is geography-based, allowing the bank to use their community investment dollars in the areas that need it most. The goal of the program is to extend credit to small business owners who might not otherwise be approved or receive it on less favorable terms. Customers do not need to do anything special to qualify. 

A man rest on the retaining wall of the Vista Bank building that will soon open in South Dallas. Photo by Sujata Dand

“We can see that the lending gap has closed considerably since we started doing this,” says Greg Hassell, a spokesperson for Chase. Dallas was one of the pilot cities for the program that is now available in more than 20 cities nationwide.

“It has helped an additional 10,000 small businesses responsibly access credit on more favorable terms,” Thomas says. However, there is no data specific to South Dallas.

“The credit score has always been based on a narrow set of financial information and it doesn’t capture everything,” Hassell adds. “If we can look at it differently and get a more full picture and see your credit worthiness, that helps.”

James McGee of Southern Dallas Progress Community Development Corporation says he’s heard neighbors complaining about Chase – mainly about the broken ATMs. However, he believes that the answer lies in adding more banks to South Dallas to help create a more equitable city. He says Vista Bank is just one more choice, and he knows they are already partnering with an assortment of economic development groups like the Network for Teaching  Entrepreneurship, Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America, and Southern Dallas Progress

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“Each of these organizations plays a pivotal role in igniting the economic engine of this historically underserved sector,” McGee says. “We understand the importance of checking and savings accounts and, of course, mortgages. But Vista’s initial approach is to offer funding, programs and initiatives that help launch new minority businesses while expanding those already in existence.”

While we don’t know yet what banking programs Vista plans to offer, there are other places where young businesses can look to for non-traditional lending. Non-traditional lending usually comes from Community Development Financial Institutions, or CDFIs. Banks often turn to CDFIs when potential clients can’t meet their financial requirements for credit. 

“CDFIs typically get funding from financial institutions [like Chase and other banks through their foundations], and they are able to work in places in the community where the bank traditionally may not work,” Thomas explains.

She says they often refer new business owners to Dallas Entrepreneurs Center, a CDFI, for help with resources. 

We’d love to know

If you are business owner and have tried to get a loan in a South Dallas bank, we want to hear your story. Contact sujata@dallasfreepress.

“In the community space, there’s no competition between banks,” Thomas says. “We complete each other. We don’t compete with each other because in this space, we are trying to close this racial wealth gap.”

Blair says the Dallas Black Chamber is working with Dallas’ city manager and council members to help keep construction on track for Vista Bank to open by late spring 2024. 

Additional reporting by Lynn Pearcey.

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