The first time Olivia Martin tried to buy a home on her modest salary, a con artist swindled the 30-year-old postal worker out of $1,000 that she paid down on a piece of property that wasn't for sale.
Stung by the financial setback, Ms. Martin shelved her dream of buying a home for herself and her 5-year-old son. On Saturday, she found herself taking the first step toward home ownership at the West End Mall in Southwest Atlanta.
Ms. Martin was one of 550 people who attended a special workshop at the mall sponsored by the Atlanta Mortgage Consortium. The consortium, which consists of nine Atlanta banks and savings and loans, is offering $20 million in low-interest loans to moderate-income homebuyers.
The $20 million program is part of $65 million in home loans previously announced, including $25 million from Citizens and Southern National Bank (C&S) and $10 million each from First Atlanta Bank and Trust Company Bank. The program is a response, in part, to a series of articles on redlining published by the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
A small army of loan officers, real estate agents, developers and credit counselors were on hand Saturday to answer questions and to offer advice.
"I really needed to know about everything that they had to tell," Ms. Martin said.
Between 50 to 75 people were already waiting inside the mall Saturday morning when the loan officers arrived, armed with applications, card tables and chairs.
Rita Gotel, like many of those who attended the workshop, doubted that she could qualify for a home loan on her $27,000 MARTA salary.
"What I'm going to do is tell you the maximum you can borrow from us, then we'll work backwards," said Allison Gandy of First Union National Bank.
Ms. Gotel's uncertainty turned to surprise when, after a few quick calculations, Ms. Gandy said that the $500 she was paying in rent could buy her and her two children a home.
"I hope to buy a home in the next three months," Ms. Gotel said.
State Rep. Ralph Abernathy III, who came to the mall to show his support for the program, said he was not surprised by the turnout.
"I know that the need is in the community and the desire to buy houses in the minority community is widespread."
Mr. Abernathy, who chairs the House Banks and Banking Committee, praised the program, but at the same time recognized a need for change in the minority community.
"I believe that as much as we have to work to change the attitudes of the banking community throughout Georgia, minorities also must work to prepare themselves to be approvable candidates (for loans)."
Frank Hinson, a member of the consortium board of directors, sees home ownersh ip as the first step toward improving the collective self-image of minority communities.
"I think it elevates the self-esteem of the community," he said.
Mr. Abernathy views home ownership as an essential economic building block in the black community.
"In the black community this is the beginning for us, when blacks own homes in Georgia by the millions then that builds our community's wealth."
Applications for the $20 million in loans will be accepted at 69 branches banks and savings and loans, including many that are now open on Saturday for the first time. The program is available only to low-and moderate-income buyers of single-family, owner-occupied homes in targeted working-class neighborhoods in Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb and Cherokee counties.
"I've talked to other people who have said `go get rid of your bills and come back later,' "said Michelle Jones, 31. "This is the first time anyone has actually given me some hope."Go to the next article or back to the Color of Money index or Power Reporting
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