The Woodstock Institute has supplied lots of ammunition to activists supporting community reinvestment. But the think tank's new chief says he prefers dialogue to conflict.
Malcolm Bush, the new president of the Chicago-based nonprofit group, is in a position to influence ongoing debates about banker's community responsibilities. In its 20-year history, Woodstock representatives have testified before Congress on topics including the Community Reinvestment Act, the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, and - most recently - public disclosure of banks' CRA ratings.
The many Congressional appearances are "a good indication that Woodstock is well respected," says Ryan Conroy, an aide to Sen. Alan Cranston, D-Calif.
Mr. Bush, 47, envisions an era of social consciousness when "making loans to minorities and providing capital in low-income communities will be just part of daily life for banks."
The British-born Mr. Bush is a former University of Chicago professor of social policy. For the past four years he has been an officer of Voices for Illinois Children, an antipoverty program. He is the author of a book, "Families in Distress: Public, Private, and Civic Responses."
Mr. Bush seems to favor policy initiatives over protests, demonstrating a thoughtful approach to issues often clouded with emotion. For example, he championed a pending Illinois bill that would provide a tax break to households with children.
Now Mr. Bush is proposing several federal policy initiative on community reinvestment. He favors:
* Establishing a widely advertised complaint hot line for applicants who are denied home mortgage loans.
* Equal enforcement of the reinvestment act on nondepository financial institutions, including insurers.
* A law similar to the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act but requiring financial institutions to disclose date on business loans.
Though some might consider all this tough medicine, Mr. Bush says: "None of our financial institutions will have an easy time if we create two nations in this country."
His seven-employee group concentrates on economic development. Woodstock studies lending patterns and publishes research on community development, loan funds designed to promote it, and bank programs aimed at poor neighborhoods. Publications include "Making CRA Work for You," a guide for community groups.
Woodstock played a key role in pushing Chicago banks to do more for communities. The group hashed out reinvestment programs with First Chicago Corp., Harris Bankcorp, and LaSalle National Corp. as the companies were expanding their city franchises.
Combat-Ready but Reasonable
"We are not in the day-to-day business of negotiating CRA agreements," says Woodstock's vice president, Kathryn Tholin. "But when community groups are ready to do battle, we will assist."
Chicago bankers confirm that Mr. Bush is a reasonable negotiator. "At one point we might have been considered adversaries," says Edward Williams, Harris Bankcorp's reinvestment-act officer.
Mr. Williams, who will be host at a reception for Mr. Bush, predicts he will be a "quick study."
Before college, Mr. Bush served in Malaysia with the Volunteer Service organization, the British Peace Corps. Back home, he took an undergraduate degree at Oxford University. He then moved to the United States and obtained a master's at the University of Pennsylvania.
After three years with Britain's criminal justice department, he moved to Chicago and took a doctorate in urban affairs and social psychology at Northwestern University.
"I've always been concerned about economic-equity issues," says Mr. Bush. "Capital is the oxygen of capitalism," and access to it should be fair.