Heather Horovitz is VyStar Credit Union’s senior vice president of community development financial institution (CDFI) and impact lending for Vystar, which has $13.5 billion is assets. She is honored to be one of the Jacksonville Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 for 2023.
The prestigious honor celebrates up-and-comers who are 39 years of age or younger on April 21, 2023, and are leading their community and impacting their industry. VyStar’s Horovitz was recognized as an influential individual who played a crucial role in shaping her community of Jacksonville, Florida. To make the list, she has achieved a high level of responsibility in her career.
“I am excited for the future and growth of CDFI and impact lending,” Horovitz stated. “I am so proud of all the work the team has accomplished so far, but their efforts are just beginning. There is still much work to be done for all of us. Our credit union will continue to lead through conversations, community support, and taking action to build stronger and healthier neighborhoods [it] serves.”
Horovitz has been with the credit union since June 2020. She worked as the financial planning manager for two years before being promoted in May 2022 to senior vice president of community development financial institution and impact lending. “At [the credit union], we are committed to being a reflection of the communities we serve,” she said.
Dennis James, senior vice president of consumer lending, said, “The collaborative relationship we have with our CDFI team aligns with our mission to bring credit union services to more members. Providing access to credit at competitive terms and helping out members build financial wealth with an inclusive approach are critical to healthy communities.”
VyStar Is a Community-Focused Credit Union
The credit union, founded in 1952 as the Jax Navy Federal Credit Union at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, is committed to initiatives that establish a solid sense of inclusion for individuals and families throughout the communities the credit union serves.
“As a community-focused credit union, VyStar’s priority is to meet our members where they are and find solutions that help improve their financial lives,” Horovitz declared. “One of the keys to those efforts is our community development financial institution and impact lending team.”
Horovitz’s role is engaging across the entire organization and with its external partners to meet the needs of the diverse communities it serves. She explained, “I was tasked with spearheading VyStar’s efforts on CDFI and community lending, working alongside my peers in each lending vertical: consumer, commercial, real estate, and loan administration.”
She continued, “This collaborative culture allowed us to exceed our goals in a short time with the continued focus on developing innovative loan products and programs that will be rolled out [in 2023].” Those products and programs will bolster the ones launched in 2022 that impact the lives of people in the communities that the credit union serves.
Jennifer Kouchis, the senior vice president and chief mortgage banking officer, called the partnership “a meaningful advancement for [the credit union’s] commitment to impactful lending and financial inclusion.”
The financial institution is committed to ensuring everyone has access to capital. “At VyStar, we live out the values of credit unions in every way,” stated Kouchis. “Putting our members first and joining them in their financial journey with a commitment to financial stability and helping out community members realize their dreams like growing a business or owning a home and building generational wealth.”
Horovitz stated that the credit union has “already created such initiatives for this mission as supporting minority business owners, developing a suite of workforce development loans, and creating partnerships with local affordable housing organizations such as Habitat for Humanity Jacksonville.
She explained, “The partnership with HabiJax offers financing at terms that are attainable to ensure repayment is affordable, increasing the odds of homeownership for future generations.”
How the Credit Union Helps Homeowners
After the financial institution received its CDFI classification, it launched its Homeowner Assistance Fund. “HAF is designed to mitigate financial hardships associated with the COVID-19 pandemic by preventing homeowners’ mortgage delinquencies, defaults, foreclosures, and displacements, as well as providing assistance with home energy, services, internet, and property and or flood insurance,” stated Horovitz.
The fund gives $676,102,379 in financial assistance via the United States Department of the Treasury. “Upon engagement and partnership with the Department of Economic Opportunity and HAF, [the credit union] has successfully helped out members retain homes and mitigated significant delinquencies and loan losses,” said Eric Weatherly, senior vice president of loan administration. “In doing so, we live out our purpose to do good.”
The credit union participated in the 2022 CDFI Fund’s New Market Tax Credit Program to bolster its long-term commitment to championing the growth and revitalization of underprivileged communities throughout its membership areas.
The New Market Tax Credit Program was established in 2000. It’s a $5 billion annual federal program that assists various businesses, such as manufacturing, food, retail, health care, education, energy, and mixed-use housing. It’s an opportunity for the credit union to carry out commercial projects that otherwise wouldn’t qualify but are vital to the renaissance of communities that are most in need.
The financial institution is “excited for the opportunity to carry out community-focused lending with the support of CDFI funding to future the impact we have in the communities we serve,” said David Walton, senior vice president of commercial lending.
Horovitz understands that impact lending is critical. “Minority-owned businesses have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and other challenges in recent years,” she stated. “VyStar has innovative products and solutions that not only help businesses and communities survive, but thrive.”
According to Horovitz, the credit union wants to be a leader in conveying the challenges in the major lending category, which include affordable housing, consumer lending, and access to capital for minority and women-owned businesses.
She strives to ensure the CDFI team supports the credit union’s core value of leading by example. “It’s what drives us to embrace being more than a traditional financial institution,” stated Horovitz. “As [the financial institution] has grown and its members and communities have become more diverse, we have worked to better define and display diversity, equity, and inclusion. Creating a strong workplace culture is integral to the success of the credit union. That’s why we empower our talented employees, who come from a wide variety of backgrounds, cultures, and ethnicities.”
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