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Expanding African Development Center shows off new West Bank spot

The African Development Center, which has outgrown its old digs, last week held an open house, complete with African food and live music, to show off the new space it has purchased.

The Minneapolis center now trains about 300 families a year in homeownership, and its initial business loan of $25,000 has grown to a lending portfolio of $2.5 million. “We just have outgrown the space that we’re in now,” says the group’s founder and executive director, Hussein Samatar. But they’re not going far from their current West Bank location. “It’s about a block and a half away.”

Samatar says the ADC is not a social service organization. “We have nothing against social services, we love them all, but we are economic community development.” In addition to providing business loans and educating prospective homeowners, the center helps entrepreneurs develop their business plans, and also teaches financial literacy.

“When people get comfortable with the English language here, the next logical extension is for them to get an understanding of American finance,” Samatar says. “You’re not going to build wealth in Minnesota if you don’t understand your credit score. What we try to do is to demystify and dissect and make it clear for people how to build good credit.”

But ultimately, the center is about helping its clients make positive investments in the community. “The African Development Center can only be in business if we’re adding value,” he says.

Born and educated in Somalia, Samatar came to Minnesota in 1993, part of the first wave of Somali immigrants. “I never worked in Somalia one single day,” he says. “War broke out just four days after I graduated.” He worked at Wells Fargo for nine years before leaving to found the ADC, which has been active since 2004.

The new space, at 1927 Fifth St. S., won’t be ready to open until Sept. 1, Samatar says, but the center wants to show it off to the community and also solicit donations to cover construction costs. “Every penny will go to the building,” Samatar says. “We’re going to have a huge conference room and training space that can hold up to 50 people, a coffee and deli shop, and a small, lovely, cozy space for child care for during the trainings.” He also wants a space for an African art gallery.

The investment reflects the center’s faith in the African community even in hard economic times, Samatar says. “Actually, strangely enough,” he adds, “in the last six months, we have been the busiest ever.” The first Saturday of every month, ADC holds a workshop for first-time home-buyers, and whereas they used to see around 8 or 10 families at these workshops, since August the average has been closer to 25. “What has happened is that the price of housing is coming down and people feel good about the market,” Samatar says.

On the downside, a lot of people are coming to them for help with foreclosures as well. “Not those who we’ve trained,” he says — only one of the 900 homebuyers they’ve helped has come back to them because of foreclosure. “But other people who we’ve not trained, they’ve been coming to us. We’re trying to get some resources so we can help, but we’re very thin on that.”

And the weak economy remains a concern  “We’re relying on the community to still have and keep their jobs. When they’re employed is the only time they can buy houses; when they’re employed is the only time they can start a new business.”

But Samatar is optimistic. A lot of Muslim families have expressed interest in the Shariah-compliant home finance the center just rolled out, and Samatar says the center is aiming to hit the $11 million mark for its business loans within the next five years.

“We have grown,” he says. “The demand of the community is still growing. We are extremely, extremely delighted.”

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