Chasing Morgan

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When the elephants get the urge to merge, it is sometimes the grass that suffers. That, anyway, was the fear of some of New York’s community development groups, which have been eyeing with trepidation the current merger between New York financial mammoths Chase Manhattan Bank and J.P. Morgan. Each of these New York City banks has a stellar reputation for philanthropy and community development lending, plowing millions of dollars each year into building low-income housing, boosting small businesses in depressed areas and supporting local nonprofits. (City Limits also gets grants from both banks.) This time, the particular concern was that Morgan’s flair for creative, tailor-made housing and development deals would be get lost when the two community development branches merged.

Not to worry, say Chase officials. First of all, the overall number of dollars devoted to urban philanthropy and development will remain constant under the new regime. “Unlike many other mergers, we pledged not to cut the philanthropic venture,” says Mark Willis, Executive Vice President of the Chase Community Development Group.

And, they pledge, the new institution–formally known as J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.–will do its best to preserve Morgan’s unique ethos. That 146-year-old bank’s community development division is well known for backing or underwriting adventurous projects, like funding the launch of a forthcoming mutual insurance company for low-income co-ops, or finding a way to syndicate federal welfare-to-work tax credits in order to help poor people get decent-paying jobs with benefits. That sort of work, says Willis, will continue.

Morgan has its own philanthropic trust, the J.P. Morgan Charitable Trust, which donated more than $5 million to urban development and human services programs in 1999. It also manages other private funds like the Booth Ferris and Taconic Foundations. Many, if not most, of New York’s housing and advocacy nonprofits get small and mid-sized checks from these funds, which will continue to be administered by Morgan’s Hildy Simmons.