District Court criticizes CFPB’s cost-benefit analysis in HMDA change
On September 23, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia granted partial summary judgment to a group of consumer fair housing associations (collectively, “plaintiffs”) that challenged changes made in 2020 that permanently raised coverage thresholds for collecting and reporting data about closed-end mortgage loans and open-end lines of credit under HMDA. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the 2020 Rule, which amended Regulation C, permanently increased the reporting threshold from the origination of at least 25 closed-end mortgage loans in each of the two preceding calendar years to 100, and permanently increased the threshold for collecting and reporting data about open-end lines of credit from the origination of 100 lines of credit in each of the two preceding calendar years to 200. The plaintiffs sued the CFPB in 2020, arguing, among other things, that the final rule “exempts about 40 percent of depository institutions that were previously required to report” and undermines HMDA’s purpose by allowing potential violations of fair lending laws to go undetected. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) The plaintiffs also claimed that the agency’s cost-benefit analysis underlying the 2020 Rule was “flawed because the Bureau exaggerated the ‘benefits’ of increasing the loan-volume reporting thresholds by failing to adequately account for comments suggesting that the savings would be much smaller than estimated, and by relying on overinflated estimates of cost savings to newly-exempted lending institutions with smaller loan volumes.” The plaintiffs asked that the 2020 Rule be vacated and set aside on the grounds that the Bureau acted outside of its statutory authority in issuing the 2020 Rule and violated the Administrative Procedure Act. The Bureau countered that issuing the 2020 Rule was within its scope of authority because HMDA’s text “does not unambiguously foreclose” the agency’s interpretation of the statute.
The court first determined that promulgation of the 2020 Rule did not exceed the Bureau’s statutory authority because “HMDA grants broad discretion ‘in the judgment of the’ agency to create ‘exceptions’ to the statutory reporting requirements…” “[E]ven a regulation relieving roughly forty percent of institutions from data collection and reporting requirements is an exception to the ‘rule’ of disclosure, which continues to apply to the majority of institutions,” the court wrote, adding that the 2020 Rule preserves the reporting requirements, “as compared to the 2015 Rule, for most institutions, the vast majority of loans, and the vast majority of communities.”
However, the court agreed with the plaintiffs that the cost-benefit analysis for the 2020 Rule’s increased reporting threshold for closed-end mortgage loans was arbitrary and capricious. The court expressed criticism of the cost-benefit analysis used by the Bureau to justify setting the minimum number of closed-end loans in each of the two preceding calendar years at 100, and found that the Bureau failed to adequately explain or support its rationales for revising and adopting the closed-end reporting thresholds under the 2020 Rule. The Bureau “conceded the new rule would cause identifiable harms to the public, but effectively threw up its proverbial hands, citing an inability to incorporate these harms into its analysis as quantifiable ‘costs,’ and moved on to the next topic of discussion,” the court said.
The Bureau “exaggerated the savings to ‘covered persons’ under the new rule, and did not engage appropriately with the nonquantifiable ‘harms’ of the 2020 Rule, and the disparate impact of those harms on the traditionally underserved populations HMDA is intended to protect, even as it conceded the revised threshold would certainly result in some harm to consumers,” the court said, questioning the Bureau’s analysis of disparate impacts on rural and low-to-moderate-income communities. The court determined that the plaintiffs identified several flaws in the Bureau’s cost-benefit analysis supporting the increased closed-end mortgage loan threshold, thus rendering this aspect of the 2020 Rule “arbitrary, capricious and requiring vacatur.” The court asked the Bureau for a “more reasoned explanation as to whether and how the cost-benefit analysis accounted for the ongoing need to collect data on home mortgages pursuant to other statutory requirements and underwriting purposes, and why, when a lender must collect and report multiple data points for each mortgage and loan application, the marginal cost of collecting the additional, HMDA-specific data points is so significant that the increased reporting threshold of the 2020 Rule renders unique cost savings.”