Black leaders Friday applauded the announcement that Atlanta banks would make $65 million available in home loans at low interest rates, but they cautioned much remains to be done to make lending equitable in the city.
"It's a step in the right direction, but it's not a giant step," said the Rev. Joseph Lowery, president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). "It's sort of like a baby learning to walk. We will tend the baby until it is ready to take some giant steps."
Nine banks and savings institutions jointly announced the low-interest loans to low-income and working-class families. In addition, First Atlanta Bank and Citizens and Southern Bank (C&S) said they will keep branches open on Saturdays on the city's predominantly black Southside, accept loan applications in those branches, solicit more Southside real estate agents and offer grants to police officers who move to Southside neighborhoods.
The programs came in response to disclosures in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week that banks and savings and loans make five times as many home loans to whites as to blacks of the same income level.
As Lowery did, most black leaders characterized the bank response as a place to begin.
"It is a start," said City Council President Marvin Arrington.
"What's been done here today is an important first step," said Fulton County Commission Chairman Michael Lomax.
"It's not enough," said Narvis Grier, executive secretary of the Atlanta chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "It seems like it's just some kind of appeasement."
U.S. Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, on Friday asked the four agencies that regulate banks and savings and loans to "investigate the statistics in this series of articles and report to the committee your findings, as well as any action you intend to pursue."
The city's Fair Lending Practices Committee of bankers, politicians, housing experts and community groups announced it will hold its first meeting Wednesday at 10 a.m. at Fulton Federal Savings and Loan, 600 W. Peachtree St.
The SCLC said it still will hold hearings in Atlanta, probably with members of the U.S. House Banking Committee.
The U.S. Justice Department asked for copies of the statistics on which the articles were based. A spokesman said the department continues to "look into" the issue.
Although many black leaders have claimed the loan patterns were caused by intentional discrimination, bankers said their new programs do not imply any admission of racial intent.
"This economic issue has been made to appear that it is a racial issue and the story has gone all over the nation with the implication that this form of discrimination is taking place in Atlanta," said Raymond Riddle, president of First Atlanta. "Race relations in our city not only set the standard for the South, but for the United States and the entire Free World. So, in these matters, Atlanta is like Caesar's wife -- it must be above suspicion."
Some blacks had another view.
"The program announced today is an admission of guilt and an inadequate response to years of discriminatory practices," said Julian Bond, president of the Atlanta NAACP. "Efforts to make up for past wrongs are welcome, but nothing short of fair treatment will suffice."
Others, while not addressing the issue of intentional discrimination, said the banks must widen their focus.
"Credit for credit-worthy black Atlanta goes beyond just single-family residential lending on the Southside," Lomax said. "It goes to small businesses. It goes to multifamily housing. And it also goes to the extent to which banks are providing comparable services to black Southside customers that they are providing elsewhere."
"I think it is a significant step," said U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), "but we still need on the federal and state level to strengthen community reinvestment legislation to force banks to be involved."
"I think that we are seeing, and will see, in the future -- at least this is my prayer -- more anticipation by the banks, rather than finding themselves in a reactive posture," said former Mayor Maynard Jackson.
And Arrington said he would invite other lenders to add to the consortium.
Arrington also announced the members of the city committee on fair lending: Co-chairman Henry Garmon, chairman of the board of Fulton Federal Savings & Loan Association; Co-chairman Eugene Walker, state senator from DeKalb County; Arrington; Lynn Brazen, Georgia Housing Coalition; Donald Cullins, Pittsburgh Community Land Trust; Myrtle Davis, Atlanta City Council member; William Deyo, executive vice president of First Atlanta Bank; Thomas W. Dortch Jr., NAACP board member; Rosel J. Fann, citizen; Owen Funderburg, president and chief executive officer of Citizens Trust Bank; Richard Guthman, senior vice president/government banking of First American Bank; Michael Hightower, Fulton County commissioner; Arthur Langford, state senator from Atlanta; Ray McClendon, citizen; Ed Menifee, Atlanta Business League; Wade Mitchell, executive vice president of Trust Company Bank; Marty Nance, executive director of the Urban Residential Finance Authority; Lee Sessions, senior executive vice president of C&S National Bank; Pam Smith, Smith & Associates; the Rev. Craig Taylor, South Atlanta Land Trust; Charles W. Walker, state representative from Augusta; Mary Webb, Association of Communities Organized for Reform Now; Wendell White, Empire Real Estate Board, and City Councilman Hosea Williams.Go to the next article or back to the Color of Money index or Power Reporting
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