CALDWELL -- City leaders in Caldwell are looking at a zoning change that would restrict payday and title loan centers, potentially keeping new centers from opening up in the center of town.

The city council is examining a code change that at its strictest would only allow new payday loan centers in industrial parts of town, not in commercial areas. Other proposals would allow the centers in some commercial zones with special permits.

Driving around Caldwell, it is not difficult to find payday or title loan centers all over town. That's a problem say some from the Idaho Community Action Network and others who want this zoning change.

They say the centers prey on low-income earners and get them stuck in high-interest payments they may never get out from under.

Personal stories of bad payday loan experiences

One Caldwell woman told KTVB after two years, she's still stuck in payday loans she took to get her car fixed in an emergency.

It was a quick fix into a gateway of debt. A cycle of debt. So things became pretty hard for me, Ayde Saavedra, a title loan customer, said. I think it's a mask. It's a disguise. They're out not to really help families. They're out to get more money.

Saavedra believes the loan centers are extremely focused on Caldwell because of the low-income population there and in surrounding small towns. She says she didn't realize how quickly the interest would compound and even feeding her children was in jeopardy.

Another woman who testified to the council, Kathryn McNary, told her experience with a title loan. She ended up losing her car, her family's only mode of transportation.

We were paying payments on it, McNary said. We were hoping to just get the title loan, pay it off right away, get done with it. But that's not what happened. The interest rates are so high that we were unable to just pay it right off.

When people begin getting behind on payments or losing their cars, proponents of the change say people may lose their jobs (because of lack of transportation) or end up needing public services.

Payday loan centers say they're there to help, not hurt

One payday loan center employee testified, saying he disagrees with targeting quick loan centers with zoning changes because, for one, those that are in now might have rent raised once their landlords realize they have to pay or move out to less populated areas.

You're going to grandfather clause most of them in anyway. I don't see the point. If you're going to grandfather them in, why not make something up per capita where you can only have so many in town? John Diaz said.

Others in the business say they wouldn't mind the change because they're grandfathered in anyway, and fewer moving in means less competition. On the other hand, they don't like the idea that they are being portrayed as predators of the poor.

We're not trying to do that at all. We're here to help people, people that are in a clinch, they need the money right then. Their furnace broke down, it's going to be freezing out. Things like that, they come here, Christine Devane, Title Cash Store Manager, said.

Diaz also spoke against the idea that the centers hurt the economy, saying his company alone employs nearly 50 people in the valley.

Their incomes [mean] spent money in the local economy. The money we lend out is spent in the local economy, Diaz said.

No vote yet, issue to be taken up again in two weeks

After testimony, ICAN tells KTVB the council decided not to immediately vote on the part of the zoning change that would affect title and payday loan centers. The payday loan changes were separated from other unrelated zoning ordinance changes that had been grouped with the issue. The payday loan center portion will be taken up again in two weeks.

In addition to city zoning changes, ICAN hopes the state will cap interest rates on quick loans at 36%. Last year, they were unsuccessful in running a bill, but organizers say they plan to try again in the next session.

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