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Originally published Wednesday, November 13, 2013 at 8:05 PM

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Seattle plans 6 low-income money-advice centers

The city of Seattle will open six “financial empowerment centers” to help people reduce debt, improve credit and gain financial stability with a $1.8 million grant from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The city of Seattle will open six “financial empowerment centers” in 2014 to help people get free counseling in money management to improve their financial stability. A three-year, $1.8 million grant from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation will fund a central storefront in Rainier Valley and five satellite centers around the city.

The program, announced at a news conference Wednesday at the nonprofit Neighborhood House in Rainier Vista, is modeled on a successful project launched by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2008 that has helped more than 19,000 families reduce their debt by more than $9 million, according to the foundation.

Seattle will be the first West Coast city to adopt the New York model.

Susan Coliton, vice president of the Allen Family Foundation, said the goal was to help people most vulnerable to predatory lending and credit-card debt, and who lack access to banking services, to rebuild their financial assets.

“When we invest in people’s potential, we invest in the city’s future, its health and its vitality,” she said.

City Councilmember Sally Clark, who attended the announcement, said the centers will be located near where people most likely to benefit from the services live. In addition to a center hub at Neighborhood House, the satellite offices will be opened at New Holly in Southeast Seattle, the Jim Wiley Community Center in Georgetown, YWCA Opportunity Place in downtown Seattle, Solid Ground Sand Point, and North Seattle Community College.

Noting that about one in 10 Seattleites lives below the poverty line, Clark said these people have long-term concerns about credit-card debt and foreclosure, as well as immediate worries about how to pay rent and utilities and buy food.

The city hopes to launch the program in early 2014. It plans to hire a team of financial counselors who will conduct a financial assessment and provide money-management advice and coaching. The centers will get referrals from more than 100 social-service and nonprofit agencies in the city, said Mark Okazaki, executive director of Neighborhood House.

“By working with families intensively over several years we hope to end the cycle of poverty,” he said.

Several people at the news conference credited Jerry DeGrieck, a senior policy adviser to Mayor Mike McGinn, for bringing experts from the New York program to Seattle and for doggedly seeking out a funding source.

DeGrieck said the Seattle program will add bilingual counselors as well as provide other services at the centers, including legal advice and help with enrolling in subsidized medical programs.

Over the past five years, Paul G. Allen and his sister, Jody Allen, have given almost $8.9 million in grants toward financial empowerment and community development through their family foundation.

Lynn Thompson: or 206-464-8305. On Twitter @lthompsontimes

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