Bank South, meet south Atlanta.
On a crisp fall day, six bankers piled into the church van for a tour of Pittsburgh, a poor, black neighborhood on the near Southside.
Two blocks out of the parking lot, a tire went flat. Some community leaders fixed the tire, others led a walking tour, and the bankers ended up buying lunch at a soul-food cafeteria in the neighborhood.
"It was just a very human experience," said Scott Jones, one of the community leaders. "They didn't seem like bankers at all."
The bankers also were pleased. Bank South has announced it is "adopting" Pittsburgh.
Next week, the bank will lend $100,000 at low interest and give $25,000 outright to the Pittsburgh Community Land Trust, a non-profit housing developer in the neighborhood. The bank also is promising to send employees out for community service activities, such as fix-up days and health fairs.
The unique partnership was recommended by a Bank South task force created in response to "The Color of Money," a series of articles published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in May about discrimination in mortgage lending and the non-relationship between Atlanta's banks and the black community.
"The Pittsburgh Community Land Trust organizers have impressed us as exceptionally dedicated, sincere and earnest people who have the best interests of the community in mind," said Robert B. Guyton, president and chief executive officer of Bank South.
For their part, neighborhood members are giddy. Until now they didn't have money for a sawhorse. Now they have a renewable line of credit to build three houses, then three more, as fast as they can.
"We are delighted," said Mr. Jones, housing developer for the land trust. "We were impressed with how the bank executives treated us with respect and sincerity."
Pittsburgh is a historic neighborhood southwest of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. It is dotted with vacant houses -- about 15 percent of the community -- but also with pockets of well-maintained homes.
"There's a lot of pride here," Mr. Jones said. "Everybody knows each other. But there's a lot of crime. A lot of drugs. We hope that building homes will help that."
The land trust was formed this summer with a grant from the Campaign for Human Development, a social arm of the Catholic Bishops Conference. The new group was spawned by the South Atlanta Land Trust, whose Southside housing efforts are a model for community developers across the country.
The president of the land trust is Donald Cullins, a longtime neighborhood resident. Other board members are Richard Minter, who grew up in the neighborhood, the Rev. Barron Banks, pastor of Rice Memorial Presbyterian Church, and former state Rep. Douglas Dean.
"They're a good group of people who will start slow and build up," said Cliff C. "Bucky" Kimsey III, head of the Bank South task force. "Nobody's going to just throw some money around and walk away."
Bank South's nearest branch is in the West End. Its manager, Dave Walters, is from Pittsburgh and will join the board of the land trust.
Besides adopting Pittsburgh, Bank South also added a new bank in a supermarket on the Southside, renovated four offices, increased marketing of loan products in black media, expanded business lending, increased efforts to hire minority appraisers and attorneys, and added a statement on equal opportunity to its corporate philosophy.
The bank also contributed $7.35 million to the $25 million Atlanta Mortgage Consortium, which was started by Bank South and eight other banks and savings and loans in response to the newspaper articles. After houses in Pittsburgh are built with the Bank South construction loan, residents may apply to the new consortium for home loans at low interest.Go to the next article or back to the Color of Money index or Power Reporting
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