Group wants Birmingham to add restrictions on payday loan stores
By William Thornton, The Birmingham News
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- A crowd of 60 people chanted "At least a mile!" with raised fists at Harvest Community Church Sunday night, calling on the City of Birmingham to restrict the number of payday loan stores in the area.
The demonstration at the church was sponsored by Birmingham Faith in Action, an interfaith group calling for the city to adopt a zoning policy which would mandate that new payday loan stores cannot operate within a mile of an existing one.
The group contends that payday loan stores charge exorbitant interest rates and disproportionately affect the poor and minorities.
To illustrate the point, Quinn Rallins, director of Birmingham Faith in Action, showed the crowd a photo showing dozens of sharks swimming alongside each other.
"We have to pick between living in two oceans. Sharks live in this ocean because it's acceptable that they can feed on the weak," he said, pointing to the photo, before showing another with only one shark. "Which ocean do you want to live in? This is where we're headed if we don't do something about predatory lending."
Rallins said Faith in Action is making a push because the city's ban on new payday loan stores ends in September. He contends that before the ban, Birmingham had the highest concentration of payday loan stores in the nation. He said the group would like the city to adopt a new zoning ordinance which would also mandate distance requirements for payday loan stores from welfare offices.
He told the crowd how a member of his family had struggled against high-interest debt which resulted in her losing her car.
"Three out of four payday loans are used to try to pay off other payday loans," Rallins said. "There's a difference between businesses making a living, and making a killing."
Former New Jersey Secretary of State DeForest Soaries, who is also a Baptist minister who speaks on overcoming debt, told the crowd that he is outraged by a rising tide of consumerism in America, which he said lures people into pursuing lifestyles beyond their economic means. Payday loan stores foster this attitude, he said, by promising quick money to people needing to cover expenses.
"It's cheaper to borrow from the Mafia than it is payday loan stores," he said. "At least the Mafia will tell you the truth -- that if you don't pay them back, they'll kill you."