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Community development financing—New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) in particular—is a niche industry. But it can also be an opportunity to combine financial know-how with a passion for helping others.

That was the case for Jonathan Lopez. “My whole reason to get a higher education was to give back to my community,” he said.

Lopez grew up in a diverse, close-knit community in South Central Los Angeles. “Some of my neighbors are Mexican, Salvadoran, Nicaraguan, Belizean, Colombian and Jamaican, just to name a few,” he said. But as he advanced further in community development, Lopez saw his neighbors represented less and less.

Recent graduates like Lopez often don’t know about NMTC. Experienced financial professionals may not be familiar, either, said Roz Billups, Executive Director at Open Access and a former fellow.

“By the time we find out about community development finance, we're already either in our own business or higher up in our careers, whether it's banking or legal or wherever we are,” Billups said, referencing Black, Hispanic and Latino professionals. “So even when we find out about NMTC, because of its structure, you would have to pretty much start at the intro level.” 

Open Access group photo

That was the case for Desiree Thomas, who spent more than a decade working in finance before she applied for the Open Access fellowship. “It was a logical continuation of my career,” she said.

“In the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) industry, it's who you know,” she said. “Since inception, the industry primarily consisted of non-minority professionals. Historically, opportunities for Black and Latinx professionals have been non-existent. If you do not have experience in NMTC, and if you do not have contacts in the industry, then gaining access can be extremely challenging. Open Access and its many supporters are simplifying entry and diversifying the industry, cohort by cohort.”

Gina Nisbeth and Jeff Monge founded Open Access to open those doors. With the fellowship, Open Access aims to increase Black, Hispanic and Latino representation in community development finance, specifically NMTC

Open Access Fellowship

Sponsored by JPMorgan Chase and other companies in the real estate industry, the Open Access fellowship program provides professionals from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to work for leading experts in finance and community development. To prepare fellows, Open Access takes a three-pronged approach:

  • Education: Fellows complete Novogradac-sponsored courses in NMTCs and Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC), plus Historic Tax Credit, Renewal Energy Tax Credit or Opportunity Zones. Fellows also complete a financial modeling class. They can also take other courses, including ones on community development financial institutions (CDFIs) and NMTC financial underwriting.
  • Job training: The 160-hour, 12-week paid job placement with host lenders, investors, Community Development Entities (CDEs), syndicators and consultants is focused on NMTCs, affordable housing, and other community development-focused financing.
  • Mentorship: Fellows are matched with trained professionals for mentoring and career growth opportunities at their fellowship. In addition to individual mentors, the program features many networking events, including panel discussions, fireside chats and presentations with experts in community development financing.

Fellowship selection and success

The Open Access fellowship program is available to candidates in all stages of their careers, from recent graduates to seasoned professionals. The program is also highly selective. For example, Lopez completed seven college internships in public policy, economics and commercial real estate. Thomas spent years working in finance, including a role in capital markets at JPMorgan Chase and one in affordable housing development with the City of New York.

But the program wasn’t without its challenges.

“The most challenging part of Open Access was trying to absorb the fields of NMTC and LIHTC in just 160 hours,” Lopez said. “These are programs that can be lifelong careers. However, Open Access provides the right exposure to gain fundamentals of the programs, and both Genesis LA and Open Access provided the resources and support.”

While host organizations ultimately choose their candidates, there are some commonalities among successful fellows.

“They’re go-getters,” Billups said. “They took this opportunity, and they just ran with it. They were networking. They went to every event, every call. The successful candidates really just seize the opportunity and take full advantage.”

Open Access fellowship by the numbers






fellows placed or promoted in community development finance roles

Gaining access and opportunities

Once the fellowship is complete, 76% of Open Access fellows have taken jobs in community development finance. Often, host organizations hire former fellows in new roles. Other times, the host organizations extend the fellowship until a long-term position opens. In other situations, organizations outside community development hire the fellows.

Lopez and Thomas were both hired by their hosts. Lopez, who completed the Open Access fellowship in 2022, is currently an associate at Genesis LA.

“It’s an absolute joy to work at an organization and with a team that deeply cares about the city,” he said. Working with fellow regional CDFIs, and with CDEs through projects right in my backyard, made me feel proud of giving back.”

“During my fellowship with TruFund Financial Services, I worked closely with the NMTC asset management team,” Thomas said. “Upon completion of the program, I was hired full-time to manage the asset management portfolio.” Thomas is now Vice President of Community Climate Finance at TruFund, where she’s responsible for managing a national clean-energy fund to finance energy efficiency and decarbonization projects. “I credit the Open Access program for this great opportunity.”

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