By Maria Saporta
The SunTrust Foundation presented the Westside Future Fund a $5 million grant Monday morning to support more affordable housing and provide entrepreneurial and small business opportunities for community residents.
SunTrust CEO Bill Rogers said the grant, the single largest gift in the foundation’s history, had been in works before the bank announced its merger with BB&T.
The merger of BB&T and SunTrust, announced earlier this year, will create a new corporate identity, and the headquarters of the combined bank will be in Charlotte, N.C.
Rogers said the grant reflects the SunTrust’s commitment to the community.
“We were here. We are here. And we’ll be here,” Rogers said in a brief interview before a passing of the ceremonial $5 million check. Post-merger, Rogers said: “We will continue to not only meet but exceed what our giving is.”
Rogers was chair of the Atlanta Committee for Progress, a high-level group of business and civic leaders who work with the Atlanta mayor on city priorities. When he was chair, ACP formed the Westside Future Fund to direct giving in the communities west of the Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The grant will include $3 million for affordable housing initiatives targeted for low-income individuals and families.
“It will provide deep affordability if you are working for minimum wage at Walmart,” said John Ahmann, president and CEO of the Westside Future Fund. Because it is a philanthropic gift, Ahmann said it would create permanent affordable housing options.
The remaining $2 million would go towards economic development initiatives – especially to help small businesses and entrepreneurs provide opportunities to people in the community.
“We are working on a theory that all the other components – housing, education – are necessary, but they are not sufficient,” said Stan Little, president of the SunTrust Foundation. “The one thing that makes all of this work and be sustainable is a viable economic and small business platform with incomes that are livable and sustainable.
Rogers, who said he does not know how long it will take for the combined bank to select a name, said both SunTrust and BB&T have a similar appreciation for being involved in the community.
“We are fundamental believers that if you build up your communities, you build your bank,” Rogers said. He added that the Westside Future Fund is “a successful model that we hope will be replicated across the country.”