It’s A Beautiful Day In The Neighborhood

Columbus United FCU joins forces with a national nonprofit to champion housing availability in rural Nebraska.

Top-Level Takeaways

  • Columbus United is financing homes and building relationships to leverage additions to its FOM.
  • The Nebraska cooperative works with NeighborWorks on subdivision development, among other things.


Columbus United Federal Credit Union($73.9M, Columbus, NE) is leveraging its relationship with another nonprofit provider of affordable housing to make a difference in their rural corner of the Cornhusker State.

Through its work with NeighborWorks Northeast Nebraska, one of the more than 245 community development organizations working under the NeighborWorks America umbrella, Columbus United has helped develop subdivisions, sold homes in them, and expanded its reach within its newly expanded field of membership.

Without partnerships like this, we wouldn’t be doing a lot of these things. Our demographics, service areas, and community involvement all overlap. We know and trust each other.

Brian Christensen, President and CEO, Columbus United FCU

NeighborWorks Northeast Nebraska buys 30 to 35 houses every year to rehab and sell, and it extensively uses a revolving loan fund to help keep costs in check.

Christensen is the current president of that local NeighborWorks board. According to him, Columbus United is a rural, blue-collar credit union whose membership is a ‘sweet spot’ for NeighborWorks.

Brian Christensen
Brian Christensen, President and CEO, Columbus United FCU

That’s because affordable housing is also a major goal for Columbus United, whose mortgage products include conventional and USDA rural development loans plus down payment assistance.

Christensen says his credit union, where he’s been for 21 years, has worked with NeighborWorks for approximately 10 years.

“We refer to them, and they make sure our members come to us if they are working with them first,” he says. “We have similar cultures that value those in need of quality housing, and our staffs know each other well.”

That cooperation includes Bradshaw Place, a subdivision of 41 homes in Columbus. Columbus United first kicked in $50,000 for a 0% participation loan with several local banks that financed the infrastructure for the development five years ago.

Since then, the credit union has offered some members USDA-backed loans to move into the subdivision, where at least 21 of the 41 homes were required to go to low- to moderate-income families, Christensen says, while others bought in with conventional mortgages.

Christensen says his work as a NeighborWorks board member has provided dual benefits for the community as well as Columbus United members. For the community, Columbus United has participated in loan pools for other subdivisions through NeighborWorks’rural workforce housing fund. For credit union members, exposure to these projects allows the credit union to learn more about new and different housing options.

But the benefits run even deeper than that.

“It’s opened an opportunity for me to sit on the housing committee of our local chamber of commerce during a time of dramatic apartment and housing subdivision growth,” Christensen says.

Get Involved. Advocate Fiercely.

Columbus United FCU president and CEO Brian Christensen had a clear reason for involving his cooperative with the local NeighborWorks America affiliate.

“It’s the perfect match for developing housing opportunities for our membership, which is mostly blue collar,” he says.

Here are four tips he has to make a similar strategy work at other credit unions.

  • Get involved and be known in the community.
  • Muscle into areas where banks want to exclude you.
  • Give to the community in time, talent, and treasure.
  • Advocate fiercely for members. ‘While they are hard at work making a living, you should be hard at work creating beneficial economic opportunities for them,’ Christensen says.

That’s a relationship Christensen expects to see continue and flourish.

“With our ongoing support of NeighborWorks with time, talent, and treasure, we hope to continue to be positioned for the clear advantage of our members,” the credit union president says.

That will become increasingly important as Columbus United works to develop the market in the field of membership it gained last year, which takes in the other larger community in the area, Norfolk, NE. Columbus and Norfolk, where NeighborWorks is based, each have approximately 24,000 residents and are about 45 miles apart.

“Our community charter overlaps all of NeighborWorks’ designated service area and their programs match the blue-collar make-up of our membership,” Christensen says.

That relationship should help Columbus United gain traction in Norfolk, where it plans to open an office.

“Since NeighborWorks is already in that community, it’s been a tremendous vehicle by which contacts are being made,” Christensen says.


February 12, 2021

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