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Demand fairness from state leaders



Most thoughtful people recognize cities are the hearts of states. A healthy body cannot exist without a healthy heart. There is no logic in cutting off the blood supply to your most vital organ. But racism, classism and greed have never been logical.

There is a crisis of affordable housing, affordable transportation, affordable health care and accessible, family-supporting jobs for a substantial portion of the state's population.

But the state of Georgia isn't supportive, and often is hostile, to the issues we face in Atlanta – the kinds of issues faced by many urban areas. The state's refusal to adequately support Grady Hospital has finally reached the breaking point. Similarly, MARTA is the only regional mass-transit system in the United States that doesn't have a state line-item appropriation in its budget. Georgia isn't funding the kind of low-income-housing tax-credit projects that have made mixed-income housing possible in Atlanta. And then there's the state's decision to use tobacco-settlement money to provide economic development opportunities in only rural areas.

So what should we do – this blue island in a red sea?

First, we need to acknowledge that we are part of a state whose actions are often at odds with our desire to have a diverse, multiracial, multiclass, multicultural society. We need to create the political will and develop public policy to fit the kind of Atlanta we say we want to be.

We need a housing policy that provides life-cycle housing options: rental options for young people just getting their first jobs or for those for whom home ownership is not a viable option; "starter homes" for young families; larger homes for growing families; and housing to accommodate empty nesters and those on fixed incomes who want to age in place. We also need affordable housing that's affordable not just to teachers and firemen, but also to hard-working, low-income residents.

MARTA is a regional asset. We need to promote it and educate Georgia's citizenry about its value. Our ability as a region to continue to grow, expand and attract businesses is dependent on our quality of life. Traffic, really bad traffic, negatively affects our quality of life. Atlanta has really bad traffic. Others in the region must get past their negative, and in some cases racist, notions about MARTA and recognize it as an integral part of a regional solution to our traffic problems. We need to get tough with those who continue to use mass transit as a wedge between rich and poor, black and brown and white.

Finally, the state should sponsor economic-development programs in urban areas similar to the OneGeorgia program that stimulates economic development in rural communities. If not, we should look at an "equal protection" approach to attempt to force equity.

The present tenor of our political and moral leadership exacerbates our problems, resulting in polarization and narrow-mindedness. We need to get organized and take seriously this assault on our way of life. Our future depends on it.

Mtamanika Youngblood is president of the Center for Working Families Inc., which works to strengthen inner-city neighborhoods and families.

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