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Aqui: Lending Circles with filipinos in L.A.

Aqui didn’t give up. She called Jose every few months to see if he was ready yet. Now her organization PWC offers MAF’s full suite of social loan programs.

“Even though Filipinos are the largest Asian American population in California, no one else was addressing the issues of low-wage Pilipino workers. That’s why Pilipino Worker’s Center was formed,” says Aquilina Soriano-Versoza, the Executive Director of Pilipino Worker’s Center.

Aqui goes to work each morning because she thrives on transformations.

She loves seeing reserved domestic workers become confident leaders and advocates. She also noticed how hard they work to improve their finances. She says, “If you are an immigrant in California, you can get a bank account but a loan is something you cannot do. You have to go through informal networks that aren’t always reliable.” Without family and friends nearby to help, domestic workers are in trouble when crisis strikes: “Our members work as live-in caregivers making less than minimum wage. When a client passes away, they are without work or a place to stay and most times don’t have any savings.”

Aqui recognized that without access to affordable credit her clients were one unexpected expense away from financial crisis, so she called Jose to propose a partnership. Although Jose was interested, at the time, Mission Asset Fund was focused on expanding in the Bay Area. Aqui didn’t give up. She called Jose every few months to see if he was ready yet.

About a year later, when the time was right, the two organizations joined together to bring Lending Circles to Los Angeles. With the help of the LA2050 challenge, the partnership expanded. PWC now offers a full suite of social loan programs to their low-income clients: Lending Circles, Lending Circles for Citizenship, Lending Circles for Dreamers and Security Deposit Loans.

A new place to live

In the fall of 2013, PWC celebrated the opening of a new low-cost housing complex in Los Angeles. The building has 45 residential units so that low income tenants can rent for as low as $300 a month, depending on their income and family size. But even affording a security deposit can pose a challenge – that’s why Aqui’s now offering the Security Deposit Loan program. They enrolled their first tenants in early 2014.

Aqui says, “Mission Asset Fund created an incredible back structure and it was so easy. Jose has helped us get our first funding with a local bank and now we’re hoping to get more funding so we can keep expanding this program.”

At PWC, members call Lending Circles “Paluwagan”. One member, Manna, is a trafficking survivor who was trapped in a house for two years and was forced to sleep on a dog bed. With help from PWC and Lending Circles, Manna’s life was transformed. She started saving money every month and building relationships.

For Filipino domestic workers in Los Angeles, those kinds of relationships can lead to new jobs. When the Lending Circles group comes together, members share their struggles and successes. Aqui says, “In Paluwagan, someone will say they are looking for a job. You know what happens? One of the other members finds one for them.” Watch more here: