Conner, contractor and owner of a custom wood work company, Conner
Millworks, has been a proud ASI member since 2018. He was referred to
the credit union to obtain a loan to help build and restore properties
in the Hoffman Triangle, his business location for more than 6 years. In
less than a year, with the assistance of ASI’s Commercial Lending team,
Nick completed two rental projects. He transformed a single family
abandoned home into a two-bedroom two-bath duplex as well as completed
construction on a duplex with a modern architectural design guaranteed
to catch the eyes of passersby.
sat down to talk with the 2018 Historic Preservation Award Winner about
his vision of bringing unique homes into the Hoffman Triangle, the
challenges he’s faced, his company’s future, and more.
What was the influence for the designs of your rental properties, especially the one on South Rocheblave?
spent a lot of time being thoughtful about my spaces, and I wanted to
build something different that’s interesting to people of all walks.
Something designed doesn’t have to be expensive and you can be
thoughtful and make affordable housing that’s visually appealing and
attractive. I wanted to create something where people can instantly walk
in and be like someone thought about this and immediately want to be a
part of it.
house on South Rocheblave was a collaborative design with an architect
friend. At first the house looked really strange because it was just a
weird stick structure. But as soon as the siding was added I started
receiving phone calls, people were stopping asking for my number, people
wanted to rent it and buy it. When it was finished it was rented out
almost immediately. I was thrilled with how the home came out.
How would you say your investment properties affect the community?
helps hold the neighborhood together, encourages new positive growth
and maintains the integrity and fabrication of the neighborhood. I’m
trying to find a way to make the neighborhood nicer but not gentrify and
kick people out. Keep the same people here and bring more. If you price
things really high in a neighborhood you won’t be able to keep the
population that’s there now in their homes.
What was the process like getting the funds needed for your investment properties?
of the properties I purchased were through tax sale. Essentially the
titles are good and clean, but they are considered higher risk. So, I
was talking to a builder friend of mine, about who would finance a home
like this and he said to call ASI. I called Tom, ASI’s Commercial Loan
Officer and he said he had no problem with it. When I met with him we
talked about my vision and he mentioned to me how well it correlated to
What has been one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced with your rental properties and how have you overcome it?
biggest challenge is trying to balance my design taste with also being
on a budget. I try to find things that are appropriate for my design and
intent. But also, won’t make the rent go up. It’s always a fine line
when I’m trying to build a quality interesting space for people to live
in but also affordable.
Would you say ASI has helped you accomplish your goals of creating interesting spaces for people to live?
without ASI I would still be dreaming. I mean that in all sincerity.
ASI, Tom and Lacey, have helped me transform my vision and dream into an
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs with similar dreams?
best advice I can give to a young person starting out is to plan as
much as possible and to ask people who know more than you as many
questions as possible. Surround yourself with people who know more than
you. My first day on a really big job, there was an older contractor who
was retiring who told me, "The best thing I can tell you to do is to
stop talking and listen more.” That has really stuck with me.
What are your plans for the neighborhood?
mission right now is to build five doubles in the Hoffman triangle,
after that I want to use the revenue I’m earning to beautify, and then
network and encourage other builders to come over and build. I plan to
start building my third property in the next couple of months.
Nick isn’t working in his wood shop or on his rental properties, you
can find him working in his garden. The Garden ‘a piece of the country
brought to the city’, is his way of having more control over the quality
of his food. In the future, he will extend the use of the garden to his
tenants by building raised beds for additional crops and adding
chickens for fresh eggs.
you are ready to begin your property investment dream, our team of
commercial loan officers are here to help. To learn more about our loan
offerings please visit our website at https://asifcu.org/business-loans
Esmeralda helped save a member over $450 on a car loan.
One of our newest members, Juan, visited the Harahan branch to apply for a home improvement loan with our Member Service Representative, Esmeralda Mata-Cruz. At the time Mr.Juan was paying $1095 a month for his truck which he purchased through a local dealer. After listening to him, learning more about his financial needs and with a click of a few buttons, Esmeralda was able to refinance his truck at a much lower rate, saving him $450 each month.
With a smile on his face and extra money in his pockets, Juan left ASI Federal Credit Union knowing we are not a service provider, but a partner dedicated to his financial stability.
"It was a pleasure assisting Mr. Juan! Hearing the excitement in his voice when he found out how much we could save him on his auto loan brought a smile to my face. It’s moments like these that make me realize how much I love my job and how much of an impact I can have on someone’s life by simply helping them save on their month to month expenses,” said Esmeralda.
Esmeralda has been a part of the ASI Team for over seven years. Beginning her career as a teller, she was promoted to Member Service Representative and is now currently a Loan Processor. She also participates in several community activities including teaching ASI’s Credit and Budgeting seminars in Spanish through the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
How a Dance
Enthusiast Builds her Dream Studio with the Help of
ASI Federal Credit Union
Instructor, Director, Dancer, wife and mom, Lori Weil is the
owner of Creative Dance & Music Studio in Harvey, LA and longtime member of ASI Federal
Credit Union. Founded by her mom in 1985, Lori took over the business in 2004.
She has spent the last 14 years living her dream and teaching children the art
of dance, tumbling, and music. After taking over the business she added an
additional location, but soon downsized to one larger location to accommodate
the needs of her students and growth in class size. Due to extensive growth and
changes in the area, Lori was faced with the decision to remain in her current
space or move her business to another location. With the help of ASI Business
Lending team, Lori is now building her first stand-alone studio.
We sat down to chat with Lori about her road to
entrepreneurship, challenges of building her own studio, and how ASI helped
turn her dreams into a reality.
How do you feel about
your new location compared to the old location?
The new location is a place that we found and can call our
own. It’s more welcoming, it’s clean, it’s safe, it’s a good environment. We
have more control over our surroundings as far as assuring that the parking lot
is well lit, and everything is working properly. When you’re located in a place with 5-6 other
stores you don’t have as much control.
How would you
describe the process of getting the funds to open your new studio?
I partnered with a community development commission that
held an event called "Meet the Lenders” and Thomas Druen (the commercial
lending manager of ASI), was there. I didn’t think that ASI did construction
commercial loans, so when I saw their sign at the event the first thing I did
was walked over and started chatting with Thomas. We talked for about 30-40
minutes, he knew that I had been a member for about 30 years, he knew about my
numerous accounts and loans, he understood what I wanted to do and that was
pretty much it. I would say having that long-term relationship with the credit union
made things super easy compared to some horror stories I’ve heard about people
trying to secure loans like this.
What are the biggest
lessons you have learned with growing your company?
EVERYTHING takes twice as long, and cost twice as much for
sure. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Never stop because the next day can be
What type of impact
would you say your studio has on the community?
We really want to give kids a place where they can
come in and be just that, kids. We have a great group of teachers and staff
that provide quality education to our students in an age appropriate and
family-oriented environment, something that is huge in the dance and art world.
Also, the new studio doesn’t just benefit my students, it creates job
opportunities for those working in the construction industry.
What would be some
advice you would give to an entrepreneur wanting to open their own business?
Plan ahead! Have a good business plan. Have funds prepared,
because everything costs twice as much as what is planned for. Know your
vision, mission and purpose and stick to that because sometimes you will find
challenges that will make you want to branch off. It is good to have something
to stick to so that you know why you want to do it and what you are doing it
The New Creative
Dance and Music Studio will be completed beginning of 2019
If you have plans of expanding
your business or are looking for business banking solutions, CLICK HERE today to learn about the different loans and solutions we offer
at ASI FCU or contact our main office in Harahan to set up a meeting with our
Business Lending Team.
When Richard Molina married his wife Lilian and had her move to the United States from their native Honduras, he had no idea she was an accomplished Pastry chef. "My wife, when I married her, I didn’t know she knew how to do all these things. I’m an engineer but when I asked her what she wanted to do, she said she wanted to open her own business,” states Molina, Manager, and Owner of Fleur De Lily Rivertown Café. They opened their business in 2013 and spent 3 years in a rented commercial space in Williams Boulevard. However, in 2016, their landlord raised the rent. "Our landlady wanted to raise the lease by $850.00. It was too much, we were not in business to be working for her so we decided to close the shop and look for alternatives,” Richard explains.
In a historic neighborhood of New Orleans, where many childhood friends and neighbors have been replaced with new families and small community businesses, lives Cynthia. Expensive remodeled homes line the street, and construction companies have become a natural fixture of the neighborhood she has resided in for more than 30 years.
"Homelessness is when someone goes through a series of events and can’t recover quick enough,” shares Jessie P. "Homelessness can be anyone. They don’t look any different from any other person”. For more than a year, Jessie was considered chronically homeless due to his life on the streets, coupled with a chemical dependency. One cold evening, Mr. Jessie laid on his card board, and with nothing other than his clothes on his back to keep him warm, decided he needed to make a change. Jessie was introduced to an Ozanam Inn homeless recovery program that would change his life forever.
"The Ozanam Inn was my sanctuary,” Jessie asserted. During his stay, he was introduced to a job assistance program which required him to save 80% of his paycheck, and use the remainder for essentials. Jessie mentions, "when I left the Ozanam Inn, I knew I needed to find a financial institution to help hold onto my money so I wouldn’t be tempted with going back to the streets. I checked around and found ASI Federal Credit Union”.
Jessie joined the credit union in 1998, built his credit and resolved the challenge of living paycheck to paycheck through a few loan products including the ASI Stretch Plan and signature loans. He states, "The staff is so wonderful. I tell them about a problem I have with my finances, and they help me resolve them. They treat my money as their own.” With a debt consolidation loan from ASI, Jessie gained control of his spending habits, later qualified for his first mortgage, and purchased his first home to provide a roof over his daughter’s head.
To all who meet him, Jessie is living proof that rehabilitation is attainable. He now works with the Ozanam Inn with an unbridled dedication to help as many men, women and children struggling with homelessness as possible. He is also serving a second 6-year term on the board of directors for Unity of Greater New Orleans, a nonprofit organization which provides services and housing for the homeless. Seeking financial guidance, Mr. Jessie shares how his financial knowledge grew thanks to the resources and support of ASI staff members. Even if he doesn’t have a transaction to make, he stops by to say ‘hello’ and chat with the staff. "ASI is like family and they continue to help me grow financially independent, thanks for the second chance.”
"After Katrina, a lot of folks who used to live in this area sold their houses to the highest bidder,” states Cynthia as she looks across the street to what used to be her family home. "After houses like this are remodeled, they go anywhere from $200 to $700,000”. During the time after Katrina many large financial institutions profited from the reconstruction of homes in the greater New Orleans area. High interest rates and fees made it almost impossible for many living in the neighborhood to fix the damage caused by the hurricane.
Over a period of time, Cynthia visited a number of financial institutions in the city to find a loan for the reconstruction of her home. "I wasn’t looking to purchase a home,” she stated. "I just needed help with fixing it so we could live in it”. With each visit, she was met with courtesy, but left with shattered hopes after countless denials for financing.
Finally, she turned to her credit union for help. ASI worked with Cynthia over a short period of time and helped get the construction loan she needed to remodel her house when other financial institutions turned her away.
"I thank ASI for making the process so easy. The mortgage department said they could help me, and they did. I tell everyone I know that ASI helped me when no one else would”. Cynthia owes the simplicity of the process and the fast turnaround time to her satisfaction. "I thought for sure I would be turned down again or have to wait forever to get a response on my application. From start to finish, the entire loan process took less than I expected!” With the renovations, Cynthia was able to triple the value of her home.
SLASHING HIGH INTEREST RATES FROM $482 TO $333
An ASIFCU member came into the Mid-City branch in New Orleans in hopes of refinancing her vehicle from another lender and saving money on her monthly payments. Jennifer, in our loan department, was able to take a deeper look into this member's situation. Around the time our member purchased her vehicle she lost her husband. She had unanticipated expenses relating to his death and medical expenses. We were able to lower her interest rate from 24% to 5.25% which reduced her monthly payment from $482 to $333 a month.
With the high interest rate she had, she made over $20,000 in payments to the lender, of which only about $4,000 went to pay down her balance and $16,000 went to interest.
"Having the ability to help save our members money and teach them how to be prepared for unanticipated expenses is why I love working for ASI" said Jennifer.
SAVING OUR MEMBER $110/MONTH
ASI longtime member Betty was living life on a fixed social security income. She was caught in the predatory trap of payday loans. ASII (A Shared Initiative, Inc.) to the rescue! Mr. Joseph recognized her situation and called to see what ASI could do to help. Once the initial interview took place, he realized that our member had been trapped in payday loans for well over 5 years. She was paying the minimum interest amount each month which never lowered the principal amount.
Betty soon found that living on a tight budget, with no room to wiggle, would force her into another payday loan. Upon completing a budget and credit counseling class with ASII, she was approved for a Freedom loan to pay off her three payday lender loans. This saved her $110 a month! In addition, ASI was able to space out her first payment for 30 days to allow her to save that payment.
BREAKING THE CYCLE OF PAYDAY LENDERS
ASI member Nicole, who was financially struggling following her divorce in 2013, came to ASI hoping for help. She had started using payday lenders to make ends meet, and owed five different payday lenders more than $1,900. When her direct deposit was deposited into her account, the deposit in its entirety would be withdrawn by these lenders, leaving her no cash for another two weeks. Nicole also had two small loans with ASI, and her student loans were past due.
ASI approved Nicole for a $3,500 credit-builder loan for 18 months at 15% interest. As part of the terms of the ASI loan, Nicole also agreed to attend one of ASI's financial education classes called "Path to Financial Freedom." In this class, members learn important financial lessons and tools, including the difference between needs and wants; how to make a budget; balancing a checkbook and avoiding NSF fees; paying bills and avoiding late fees; the true cost of payday lenders; and the importance of repairing your credit.
Nicole successfully completed the financial education class and is now on her own path to financial freedom. With her loan, Nicole was able to pay off her other ASI loans, as well as all of the payday lenders. She was also able to bring her student loan payment up-to date. Not only does Nicole now have extra money in her pocket each pay period, but ASI is saving her more than $430 per month in unnecessary payments and interest!
MORTGAGE MODIFICATION SAVES COUPLE $250/MONTH
In 2013, Mr. Johnson , an ASI Federal Credit Union member, went in to the ASII offices to discuss his need of foreclosure counseling. He and his spouse were delinquent on their mortgage payments, which were $887.92 per month with a fixed interest rate of 6.7%. The reason for default was due to an increase in expenses as a result of a medical illness. Although the Johnson family had sufficient income, the increase in hospital bills created a financial strain for them. In addition, they had also fallen victim to a mortgage relief scam, in which they lost $1,000.
In an effort to try to recoup Mr. and Mrs. Johnson's funds, ASII filed a mortgage relief scam complaint on their behalf. Their loss mitigation packet was submitted on February 8, 2013, and by April 1, 2013, they received a loan modification trial plan agreement. This obligated them to pay $630 as a trial plan payment from May to July 2013. Their successful completion of the trial plan resulted in a permanently modified mortgage. Their new mortgage payment is $630.31 per month with a fixed interest rate of 4%. This saves them more than $250 per month!
AUTO PROMOTION HELPS PAY DOWN LOAN
ASI Member Seneca and her husband, both of whom work at Huntington Ingalls and drive back and forth every day, were looking for a new vehicle. They had plenty of miles on their car and needed something newer and reliable. After talking about it for months, they finally decided it was time to purchase.
Seneca filled out a loan application to get a pre-approval so she would know what price range to look in. She then went out and started shopping, eventually narrowing her search to a Hyundai Santa Fe SUV. Seneca came into the branch, signed for her loan and was ready to go and pick up her new vehicle.
A couple days later, Seneca came back into the branch and told all of the staff how much she loved her new SUV. Because she had gotten a loan during ASI's "Squeal of a Deal" promotion, Seneca received 1% cash back on her loan! Rather than take the cash, Seneca decided to apply the money towards another loan she had with ASI. Now that's being financially savvy!