1999 Executive Summary


On the eve of the millennium, Atlanta has achieved many successes, but there remain many problems. One is reminded on a report on the South titled Half Way Home and A Long Ways to Go. While some progress has been made in reducing black-white disparities, Atlanta continues to reflect Charles Dickens’ characterization of 19th Century London "A Tale of Two Cities."

In "Atlanta Politics on the Eve of the Millennium," Bob Holmes writes that Atlanta has experienced a post-Olympic economic boom, with several major corporations and developers making major investments in the downtown, Mid-town, and Buckhead areas. Among the noteworthy private sector projects are the following: Atlantic Steel multi-use complex; Brookwood Place; North Yards Business Park; Centennial Hills; BellSouth Business Center; Atlantic Center Tower; Coca-Cola Headquarters Expansion; and Mid-Town Office Tower. New office building projects of government entities include Centennial Place, the Georgia World Congress Center Expansion, Georgia State University new buildings; and several other renovations.

Mayor Bill Campbell has received praise from the business community for reorganizing the city’s economic development agencies into the "one-stop shop" Atlanta Development Authority (ADA) headed by Kevin Hanna, which has worked closely with developers to expedite their projects, and has provided a range of tax incentives and loans to implement their plans. Hartsfield Airport is now number one in airline passengers in the world, and the Atlanta Housing Authority is considered a national model for its mixed-use housing program. The Atlanta Empowerment Zone has been resuscitated by its new Executive Director, Reverend Joseph Reid, and the agency has played a key role in Atlanta’s economic development/redevelopment.

However, Dr. Holmes writes that, despite such achievements, there is still a need for improvement in the operation of Atlanta’s city government. For example, management problems have continued in the Department of Administrative Services/Equal Business Opportunity (EBO) program, the Public Works Department, and the Police Department. These departments, along with some other city departments, have received a firestorm of criticism for excessive errors in its categorization of crime rates and poor administrative/managerial practices. While Mayor Campbell appointed a Blue Ribbon Commission to examine and make recommendations to improve the operation of the EBO program, which recently came under attack by the Southeastern Legal Foundation, there have been no changes in the top management of the Administrative Services Department despite the numerous examples of poor management that have been documented in previous volumes of The Status of Black Atlanta. A survey of the Atlanta City Council showed that 8 of 9 members who responded believed the city is poorly managed and a majority said the mayor had not developed a good working relationship with the council.

Professors Vincent Eagan and Vijaya Subrahmanyam of Morehouse College provide an excellent analysis of "Small Business Lending and Black Atlanta." They cite data that document national and local disparities such as: 1) black construction firms receiving a lower number of loans and smaller loans than white firms, for start-up; 2) denial rates for blacks 35 percent higher than for whites after controlling for risk characteristics; 3) a gap between black and white denial rates in small business lending 3.5 times greater than in home mortgage loans; 4) black borrowers being charged an average of one percentage point higher interest rates than whites; and 5) black businessmen being forced to secure loans from nonbank intermediaries, such as finance companies and factoring companies, which charge high interest rates.

Their examination of the Small Business Association’s (SBA) loan programs shows significant recent progress; however, SBA provides only a small percentage of total bank loans—$262 million in 1997 or 3 percent of loans to black firms, while $188 billion in credit was provided for small businesses and commercial mortgages. In Atlanta, SBA loans provided to black owned firms increased from $3 million in 1993 to $6 million in 1998, or 14 percent of total SBA loans in the Atlanta area, well above the SBA’s 3 percent national average. Minority retail and service firms were the primary recipients, with only 4 percent going to minority construction/engineering companies. Regarding overall small business lending by neighborhoods, the two predominantly white "super districts" (Buckhead and Northeast) of the seven districts in Atlanta received 60.4 percent of all business loans, or 6.5 times the dollar value of loans per 1000 population in the Southwest Atlanta super district. There were similar findings in Fulton County. In sum, there is presumptive evidence of persisting racial bias in lending procedures.

The authors discuss other financial assistance organizations’ activities, such as the Atlanta Development Authority, the Atlanta Empowerment Zone Corporation, and the Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership. Among their key policy suggestions to increase black entrepreneurs’ access to capital are:

    • Rescind Federal Reserve Bank Regulation B to permit collection and analysis of lending to black businesses and allow the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) to cover small business lending to minority communities.
    • Nationally, reform the process for securitizing small business loans (developing secondary markets through government assistance via credit enhancements, and reform SBA programs to permit community development financial institutions and finance companies to participate in SBA loan guarantees).
    • 3) Link neighborhood lending to business opportunities, such as the emerging HUBzone programs.
    • Use Atlanta government deposits to encourage banks to make more capital available in minority neighborhoods.
    • Provide new programs for contract financing at lower interest rates.

Dr. Adewale Troutman’s analysis of "The Health Status of Black Atlanta" provides a picture of continuing disparities between black and white health status. He documents the relationship between socio-economic status, power relationships, racism, and health outcomes. Finances, education, and other barriers account for disparities in the quality of health care across racial and ethnic groups. The author cites data that 38 percent of premature deaths are related to poverty, cites a recent study of white physicians prescribing different tests and remedies for black patients compared to white patients, and relates differences in the availability of AIDS medicine. Moreover, 25 and 20 percent respectively of African American men and women in Fulton County lack health insurance compared to only 10 percent for both white males and females. This disparity often delays health care until serious illness results.

Dr. Troutman applies the Physical Quality of Life Index (PQLI), which was designed for developing nations, to Atlanta and documents the premature deaths measured by Years of Potential Life Lost (YPLL). A life expectancy of 75 is reached by 73 percent of white women, 45 percent of African American females, 44 percent of white males, compared to only 22 percent of black males. He notes that most premature deaths among blacks are preventable.

The author proposes a strategy involving a wholistic preventive care program to achieve wellness for black citizens. Troutman makes several specific recommendations, including:

  • Creation of Health Enterprise Zones;
  • Guaranteed health care coverage for all Atlantans and Georgians;
  • Allocation of more resources for prevention strategies;
  • Research into behavioral change to promote positive health behavior for African Americans;
  • Creation of community based stress management programs;
  • Implementation of a needle exchange program; and
  • Institution of a more Comprehensive gun control program.

Goro Mitchell examines the nexus between transportation, air pollution, and social equity in the chapter titled accordingly. He discusses the categories of "procedural inequity," "geographical inequity," "social inequity," and two types of transportation equity, "horizontal and vertical." The author shows how urban sprawl contributes to air pollution and degradation of the inner city residents as well as making employment centers inaccessible by public transit. Studies are cited which show the low participation of blacks in transportation planning, and the resultant environmental injustice manifested by such phenomenon as the increase in asthma related deaths from 1.7 to 3.7 per thousand between 1980 and 1990. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show black children are six times more likely to die from asthma than whites and three times more likely to become severely ill and require hospitalization. While transportation-related sprawl has improved white Atlantans’ accessibility to suburban jobs, it has had the opposite impact on black employment opportunities. Also, until a few years ago, there had been public and private sector disinventment inside of the city and a concentration of investment in infrastructure in the suburbs.

Mitchell writes that the regressive sales tax paid by Atlanta, Dekalb, and Fulton residents accounts for the largest source of operating revenues for MARTA at 46 percent, with an additional 34 percent from the farebox and 20 percent from the Federal Transit Administration. Thus, an indirect subsidy is provided to non-Fulton-Dekalb commuters. To achieve greater equity, he suggests a distance-based fare similar to one used by the Washington D.C. area transit system to replace the current flat fare. Approximately 10.74 percent of MARTA riders live outside of the service area, but this number seems likely to rise with future stringent measures to reduce auto traffic necessary to bring the 13-county Atlanta metro area into compliance with EPA air quality standards. Finally, the author says nodal economic development around transit stations has not occurred in majority black areas.

There are recent signs that a more effective and equitable transportation planning process may develop with the potential for greater accessibility to and influence by Atlanta’s black population. A recent court decision placed a moratorium on 61 Georgia DOT metro area road projects valued at approximately $700 million. The growing opposition to suburban sprawl by Atlanta’s economic leadership has resulted in the creation of the powerful Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA). A new focus on reinvestment in the inner city is exemplified by Bell South’s plans to concentrate more than 10,000 employees in its headquarters at the MARTA Lindbergh Transit Station. Mitchell advocates a major proactive effort by black leaders in pushing for more creative measures to reduce ozone emissions, such as linking ad valorem vehicle registration license fees/taxes to pollution emitted or mileage traveled in previous years, reduction of downtown parking, promotion of alternative-fuel vehicles, increased subsidies to public transit, and requirement of a fee for parking policy at transit station lots. This strategy to achieve transportation equity would promote investment inside the city, help to reverse sprawl, reduce air and noise pollution and enhance economic development to achieve a sustainable community.

The chapters indicate there are many challenges confronting Atlanta’s leadership as we enter the next millennium. Mayor Campbell’s notion of forging partnerships with all major stakeholders must become a reality if a consensus is to develop on the strategies and resources needed to resolve some of the seemingly intractable problems identified in this volume, such as discriminatory lending practices and inadequate programs to facilitate the growth of black businesses, the vast disparities in health outcomes for blacks, and the long-standing transportation inequities resulting from a public policy which focused resources on the suburban white population to the detriment of the central city’s majority black residents.

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