Leading the lending fight

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Much of the credit for mobilizing legislators and community leaders against payday lending goes to the Virginia Organizing Project (VOP), which has been out front on the issue of payday lending for years. After seeing its efforts to cap loans fail in the last Assembly session, VOP used a wide range of activities to make citizens aware of predatory lending practices and lobby Richmond legislators.

VOP volunteers spent the summer canvassing local neighborhoods, raising awareness about payday lending and urging people to ask their state senators and delegates to cap loans. Along with presentations to community groups, VOP also held around a dozen demonstrations statewide outside payday lending centers. VOP organized two of those demonstrations in Charlottesville.

The group’s efforts extended to Richmond, where VOP was party to more than 60 constituent meetings with legislators.

Joe Szakos, the executive director of VOP, says the legislation passed by the General Assembly is a “slight improvement in the system, but there is more work to be done.”

VOP still hopes, says Szakos, that Governor Tim Kaine will hold off on signing the bill until some changes can be made to give it more teeth. Szakos says that more credit unions are coming out with short-term loans, and faith communities are also stepping in to fill that need.

Meanwhile, VOP is working to address other predatory lending practices such as car title loans and what Szakos called the “secondary mortgage lending disaster.”

“There’s no fine lines,” he says. “To us, it’s the whole context of what happens to people when they get kicked around economically. How do we make life better?”