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The Color of Money

Follow-ups and reaction

Racial lending gap less in South than Midwest

By Bill Dedman, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Published January 22, 1989, Page A1

Copyright 1989, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Owning your own home is a Southern tradition, even among poor black Southerners.

In Atlanta and Mobile, in Charleston and Birmingham, in cities across the historically segregated South where blacks have the lowest incomes compared with whites, they are more likely than blacks elsewhere in the country to own their own homes.

That fact, contained in census data, may help explain why blacks who apply for home loans at Southern savings institutions are not rejected as often as blacks in the Midwest and the Plains, even though blacks in those regions have higher incomes in relation to whites.

But what is true for the region is not true of every city within it. In 30 of the 50 largest Southern cities, black applicants for home loans are rejected more than three times as often as whites, according to federal lending records analyzed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The 10 Southern metro areas with the greatest black-white disparities in rejection rates are Roanoke, Va.; Melbourne-Titusville-Palm Bay, Fla.; Savannah, Ga.; Lynchburg, Va.; Clarksville, Tenn.-Hopkinsville, Ky.; Augusta, Ga.; Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Albany, Ga.; Shreveport, La.; and Columbus, Ga.

Matched against those cities, Atlanta, where credit discrimination lately has been a controversial issue, looks like a beacon of racial equality.

Although blacks are rejected twice as often as whites in Atlanta, it ranks 37th out of 50th in the South in lending disparity, and 59th out of the 100 largest metro areas in America.

Every other metro area in Georgia has a higher black-white disparity than Atlanta, including the four in the top 10 as well as Macon-Warner Robins (12th). Athens has a higher black-white disparity than any other Georgia city, but is not among the 50 largest Southern cities.

In Atlanta, 23.3 percent of black applicants were rejected, compared with 10.6 percent of whites, meaning blacks were rejected 2.2 times as often, only slightly worse than the national average.

Atlanta fared much worse than average, however, when looking at income as well as race. Homebuyers in high-income minority neighborhoods in metro Atlanta were consistently rejected more than twice as often as homebuyers in low-income white areas.

The poor numbers in smaller Georgia cities did not surprise black neighborhood leaders. "The banks have a lack of knowledge of blacks and who we are," said Dr. Phyllis P. Mack, a Savannah dentist who is president of the Savannah Community Reinvestment Alliance, a group of activists pushing banks to lend more often in their neighborhoods.

"I don't think blacks are less likely to pay back a home loan than whites," Dr. Mack said. "A home is as sacred to blacks as to whites. Black folks would rather not eat than to lose a home."

Many of the savings and loan associations in smaller Georgia cities are owned by institutions based in Atlanta.

Statewide rejection rates for the state's two largest savings institutions were made available last year to the Journal-Constitution. Georgia Federal Savings Bank rejected 4.2 times as many blacks as whites. Fulton Federal Savings and Loan rejected 3.6 times as many blacks.

"Our underwriters don't look at the color of the applicants," said Shepherd Marsh, executive vice president of Fulton Federal.

"That could only be explained by a lack of ability to qualify for the loan," said Don Stout, senior vice president of Georgia Federal.

Fair lending was the topic of much discussion in Atlanta last year after the Journal-Constitution published a study showing that banks and savings and loans made few loans in black neighborhoods in metro Atlanta.

Nine institutions responded by creating loan pools of $72 million, mostly for black neighborhoods.


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