Bell, O'Malley vow better use of federal reinvestment funds

August 24, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Two mayoral candidates said yesterday that if elected to lead Baltimore, they would make better use of the federal Community Reinvestment Act to renew city neighborhoods.

Speaking before members of the Center for Poverty Solutions, City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III and Councilman Martin O'Malley said the city has failed to adequately tap into funds provided through the federal statute requiring banks to lend money to businesses in hard-hit neighborhoods.

The comments were made as 10 candidates in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary addressed about 50 people on issues ranging from housing to homelessness at a forum held at the Urban League.

Last year, Bell held the first African-American Economic Summit, a gathering of minority small-business leaders concerned about their inability to obtain loans. Bell also conducted a council hearing that called bank leaders together to discuss the 1977 reinvestment act.

Bell said aid to African-American businesses in the city is the key to helping the poor. "We need to use every resource we can get into the African-American community," he said.

In the past six years, cities across the United States have received $1 trillion in community reinvestment money because of stricter government enforcement of the law. Before 1993, only $42 billion was spent. The act is under attack in Congress by Republican U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, who calls the measure another means of welfare.

Pittsburgh has secured $2.7 billion since 1988. Cleveland has attracted $1.3 billion through nine banks since 1991. In that time, Baltimore has used $137 million in community reinvestment funds, less than 6 percent of the Pittsburgh funding.

O'Malley has pledged to create a new three-person mayoral office responsible for improving city neighborhoods using the reinvestment act. The city would use taxes from two new Inner Harbor hotels to create the office, O'Malley said.

O'Malley told members of the nonprofit center that jobs created by small businesses can help reduce poverty. Sparking economic development will require reducing the number of the city's open-air drug markets, O'Malley said.

"As open-air drug markets chase residents from our city, so does it chase job opportunities and jobs from our cities," O'Malley said.

Mayoral candidate Carl Stokes said he would also aid city neighborhoods, turning the focus from providing subsidies to downtown businesses.

"Thirty years later, and they're asking for more money," Stokes said. "To hell with them."

Ralph Moore of the Center for Poverty Solutions said the key to getting aid for the city's poor is cooperation.

"We don't want you to work for us," Moore told the candidates. "We want you to work with us."

Pub Date: 8/24/99

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