Attack on Community Reinvestment Latest Battle in Republicans War on the Poor

Little Rock   A headline in the Wall Street Journal marked another salvo in the vicious war that the Republicans and the Trump administration has launched on low-and-moderate income and minority families across the country. This time it was not transferring tax subsidies to the rich or attempting to eviscerate their healthcare and kill them. This time they are trying to force them to be permanent renters or homeless in order to transfer more benefits back to banks by trying to further gut the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977.

CRA, as it is known, coupled with HMDA, the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, has been the key tool for forty years in forcing banks to lend to lower income and minority neighborhoods. CRA was critical in ending the governmental sanctioning and encouragement of housing discrimination called redlining, which created zones where banks would not issue mortgages. And, it was – and is potentially about to be – even worse. For those with long memories part of the proof that drove CRA was the statistical evidence that there was a lending and deposit deficit and transfer between lower income communities and higher income ones. Excess money from banking customers’ deposits from low income communities enabled loans vastly in excess of deposits in higher income communities in the same urban area that financed sprawl and suburban development and created blight and abandonment in urban, lower income and minority communities. This was not just discrimination, but devastation triggered by banking disinvestment.

The Treasury Department and the Office of the Comptroller are preparing today to announce proposals to lighten the load on banks. Remember these are the same banks that created the credit deserts before CRA in 1977 and have now intensified desertification in these communities in the wake of their ineptness and reckless speculation that triggered the Great Recession in 2007. If there was any sense of irony in political philosophy and policy, this would be the case study, as Treasury now attempts to “reward” banks for not lending in lower income areas over the last decade, by making it easier for them to, yes, you got it, NOT lend in lower income areas.

They are masking this outright robbing from the poor and racism by hiding under the banner of there being burdensome regulations on the banks that cost “billions” in their words. Billions in banking is the equivalent of their bar bill for the trillions that they collectively handle, hoard, and sometimes lend. If any one needed more regulations, rather than less, it’s banks!

The details are still emerging but the headlines are another battle cry in the ongoing war on the poor.

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Please enjoy tUnE-yArDs’ Heart Attack.

Thanks to KABF.

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Housing Discrimination is Back! Did it Ever Leave?

hudson-city-savings New Orleans      The Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) was passed in 1978 banning racial discrimination in lending.  The Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) was passed as well, forcing banks to supply the data on where they approved mortgages and the racial and ethnic information on the borrowers.  Reporting and enforcement is under the jurisdiction of the Federal Reserve banking system.

            This is called redlining.  There have been recent settlements in this area in Buffalo, Milwaukee, Providence, Rochester, and St. Louis.  Hudson City Savings Bank, the 7th largest savings bank in the US and the largest in New Jersey with offices in New York and Connecticut as well, and a merger candidate for the larger M&T Bank Corporation, settled a case with the Department of Justice and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau without admitting guilt but by agreeing to a fine of over $30 million for discrimination.  The New York Times reported that that “In 2014, Hudson approved 1886 mortgages in the market…federal mortgage data show.  Only 25 went to black borrowers.”  Hudson claimed innocence, arguing that it bought mortgages on the secondary market, that the bank felt was sufficient to satisfy its CRA obligations.   Attention to the discrimination was brought to the authorities by New Jersey Citizen Action and that’s about the only good news in any of this.

            The bank’s argument is perverse.  They seem to believe that racial discrimination can be handled like climate change with a “cap-and-trade” type agreement where it is alright to discriminate in your home markets, just like you can pollute in your home countries, as long as you purchase an offset in some other way by buying mortgages or helping protect a rain forest.  What a load of hooey!  I’m also troubled about the non-existent role of the Federal Reserve in the Hudson story, especially because any pending merger like the one playing out with M&T would have triggered a review by the Fed on the CRA banking record and requirements.  Without a doubt the CRA has been steadily weakened over the last almost forty years, but has the Federal Reserve decided to be completely derelict in their duty and shuffle this over to no one or by luck have some other agencies like the CFPB and the DOJ pick up the slack.  This is not reassuring.

            Nor is it uncommon.  Without data or taking the time to collect and study it when it is available, it becomes easy to simply say with the banks that there is no discrimination.  I heard that repeatedly in the United Kingdom when discussing the need for a CRA and HMDA for British banking.  Data now exists that allows some evaluation of credit, mortgage, and small business loans in the UK, but the initial reactions have been ho-hum, indicating no surprise that there is more action on lending in higher income areas than lower income ones.  The finer data is not available, and the raw data is deliberately opaque.

            As long as there are bankers that will welcome deposits from lower income families and minorities and still maintain that they have no community responsibility, even though they are chartered with such obligations, and justify their practice based on aversion to risks rather than embracing more robust and generalized rewards, there will be discrimination. There’s always smoke, we just need to make sure that many are still also continually looking for the inevitable fire hidden beneath the smokescreens.

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