Baton Rouge-based Investar Bank is launching a unique program aimed at increasing homeownership in north Baton Rouge, with the company buying up the first set of lots this week.
CEO John D’Angelo, who founded Investar in 2006 and took the holding firm public in 2014, says the new initiative is in its early phases, but was driven by Mayor Sharon Weston Broome’s “challenge and commitment” to promoting economic development in north Baton Rouge, historically an underserved area.
“We contemplated many approaches, but they all fell short of making a significant impact on our community or truly involving residents of north Baton Rouge,” D’Angelo says in an email. “Money alone does not lead to economic development that can move past a one-time contribution or grow into a thriving community. Our goal was to reinvent the way a bank could drive economic development in north Baton Rouge.”
The bank has been expanding as of late, acquiring the parent company of the Jackson-based Highlands Bank as well as the Ville Platte-based Citizens Bancshares Inc. last year. Investar Holding Corporation, the publicly-traded holding company of Investar Bank, posted net income of $2.3 million in the fourth quarter of last year, despite a $300,000 one-time tax hit from the GOP tax rewrite in Congress.
Under the new program, the bank is turning its focus inwards to north Baton Rouge. The firm will buy up land in north Baton Rouge and partner with contractors from the area to help develop residential properties. D’Angelo says he will also link up with churches, pastors, local officials, nonprofits and local businesses.
Those partners will identify potential homebuyers, and Investar has developed a new mortgage product aimed at making homeownership affordable that it will offer to the buyers. Plus, other partners in the endeavor will provide grants to help make the process more affordable. The bank has started meeting with community leaders to help find contractors in north Baton Rouge, and D’Angelo says he hopes to get more people and groups on board.
“The goal is to create a market with appreciating values for our new homeowners,” he says. “We will provide a means for north Baton Rouge contractors to participate and learn the process of purchasing land, financing construction and selling homes.”
Broome says she’s been meeting with stakeholders in small groups in recent months, challenging them to help uplift the parish through economic development. She met with D’Angelo recently and says he’s “heeding the call to action.”
The project has been in the works for more than a year and a half, and Investar this week scooped up three lots in the Gracie subdivision for $40,000, the first of seven planned lots for the first phase.
Aside from the homeownership program, Investar is also designing a new north Baton Rouge branch on Harding Boulevard at the site of an Investar ATM that opened in 2016.