Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.
On June 10, HUD published an interim final rule (IFR) to restore certain definitions and certifications to its regulations implementing the Fair Housing Act’s requirement to affirmatively further fair housing (AFFH). The IFR also reinstates a process where HUD will provide technical assistance and other support to funding recipients engaged in fair housing planning. The IFR essentially repeals HUD’s 2020 final rule (covered by a Buckley Special Alert), which was intended to align its disparate impact regulation, adopted in 2013, with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. As previously covered by InfoBytes, earlier in January, President Biden directed HUD to examine the effects of the final rule while emphasizing that HUD has a “statutory duty to ensure compliance with the Fair Housing Act,” and on April 12, the Office of Management and Budget posted notices (covered by InfoBytes here) announcing a pending proposed rule to reinstate HUD’s Discriminatory Effects Standard related to the 2020 final rule.
Among other things, the IFR “restores the understanding of the AFFH obligation for certain [funding recipients] to the previously established understanding by reinstating legally supportable definitions that are consistent with a meaningful AFFH requirement and certifications that incorporate these definitions.” The IFR also notes that HUD will provide technical assistance and support prior to the IFR’s July 31 effective date, due to a requirement that HUD funding recipients certify compliance with their AFFH duties on an annual basis, as well as HUD’s statutory obligation to ensure that it follows the Fair Housing Act’s AFFH requirements. HUD further recognizes that the 2020 final rule “did not interpret the AFFH mandate in a manner consistent with statutory requirements, HUD’s prior interpretations, or judicial precedent,” adding that the agency also failed to “provide sufficient justification for this substantial departure.”
HUD also announced that it will separately restore guidance and resources for funding recipients to use when conducting fair housing planning until the agency finalizes a new regulation to implement the statutory mandate to AFFH. Comments on the IFR are due July 12.
Last month, the Government Accountability Office delivered a report at the request of Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) on the CFPB’s oversight and enforcement of fair lending laws after the agency’s 2018 reorganization which moved the Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity from the Supervision, Enforcement, and Fair Lending Division to the Office of the Director and shifted certain responsibilities. GAO’s investigation focused on how the Bureau (i) “managed the reorganization of its fair lending activities”; (ii) “monitored and reported on its fair lending performance”; and (iii) used new HMDA data reported by some lenders since 2018 in its fair lending activities. The investigation team examined documents related to the Bureau’s fair lending activities, including strategic and performance reports and policies and procedures, and interviewed Bureau staff. GAO concluded that the Bureau “did not substantially incorporate key practices for agency reform efforts GAO identified in prior work” during the reorganization, and identified challenges related to the reorganization such as “loss of fair lending expertise and specialized data analysts,” which “may have contributed to a decline in enforcement activity in 2018.” The report also pointed out that the Bureau’s decision to stop reporting fair lending supervision and enforcement performance goals and measures has reduced transparency. However, the report noted that the Bureau has incorporated loan-level HMDA data to support its fair lending activities and that the new data points have improved the agency’s ability to compare how different institutions price loans, helping staff identify potentially discriminatory lending practices.
GAO’s report recommended that the Bureau: (i) collect and analyze information on the outcomes of its fair lending reorganization and use that assessment to address any related challenges or unintended consequences; and (ii) “develop and implement performance goals and measures specific to its efforts to supervise and enforce fair lending laws.” The Bureau agreed with both recommendations and affirmed its commitment to implementing them.
On June 1, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois denied a national bank’s motion to dismiss claims that its allegedly discriminatory mortgage lending practices violated the Fair Housing Act. According to a complaint filed by the County of Cook in Illinois (County), the increase in foreclosures during the relevant time period were proximately caused by the bank’s mortgage practices, and caused the County to incur financial injury, including foreclosure-related and judicial proceeding costs and municipal expenses due to an increase in vacant properties. The bank filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that that the County did not have standing to sue because “the judicial proceedings and other activities associated with the additional foreclosures” actually “yielded a net benefit to the County.” The court disagreed, ruling that all the County had to do was show a reasonable argument that the bank’s lending practices resulted in foreclosures. The bank “does not dispute that the County has properly alleged in its complaint a financial injury sufficient, at least at the pleading stage, to support standing,” the court wrote.
On April 30, HUD announced a Charge of Discrimination against a California-based mortgage modification service (respondents) for allegedly violating the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against Hispanic homeowners. According to HUD, the complainants alleged that the respondents targeted them for illegal or unfair loan modification assistance based on their national origin, and that as a result, “they were diverted from obtaining legitimate assistance” and “were at risk of foreclosure.” Specifically, the respondents allegedly marketed and sold loan modification services to financially distressed California homeowners, the majority of whom were Hispanic. The allegations claim that most of the advertisements were in Spanish or were aired on Spanish-language stations and contained allegedly deceptive information regarding the respondents’ ability to obtain loan modifications, as well as its payment structure. Additionally, the complainants stated that they were discouraged from seeking free loan modification assistance, and were, among other things, (i) charged fees before the respondents completed the promised mortgage modifications; (ii) advised to stop making payments without being informed about the risks involved in not paying their mortgages; (iii) provided inaccurate information about the respondents’ services, including that clients would receive services from an attorney; and (iv) instructed to stop communicating with their lenders and to instead forward all lender communications to the respondents if threatened with foreclosure. The charge will be heard by a United States Administrative Law Judge unless a party elects to have the case heard in federal district court.
On April 20, a majority of nonrecused active judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit vacated a three-judge panel’s 2020 Fair Housing Act (FHA) decision and ordered that the case be reheard en banc. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the City of Oakland sued a national bank alleging violations of the FHA and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, claiming the bank provided minority borrowers mortgage loans with less favorable terms than similarly situated non-minority borrowers, leading to disproportionate defaults and foreclosures causing (i) decreased property tax revenue; (ii) increases in the city’s expenditures; and (iii) neutralized spending in Oakland’s fair-housing programs. Last year, the three-judge panel affirmed both the district court’s denial of the bank’s motion to dismiss claims for decreased property tax revenue, as well as the court’s dismissal of Oakland’s claims for increased city expenditures. Regarding Oakland’s alleged municipal expenditure injuries, the panel agreed with the district court that Oakland’s complaint failed to account for independent variables that may have contributed or caused such injuries and that those alleged injuries therefore did not satisfy the FHA’s proximate-cause requirement. The panel further held that Oakland’s claims for injunctive and declaratory relief were also subject to the FHA’s proximate-cause requirement, and that on remand, the district court must determine whether Oakland’s allegations satisfied this requirement. The bank filed a petition for panel rehearing and rehearing en banc last October, arguing, among other things, that the panel had “fashioned a looser, FHA-specific proximate-case standard” in conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions involving the City of Miami (covered by InfoBytes here). Oakland responded by noting, however, that the panel’s decision is consistent with the City of Miami decisions, and that, among other things, the Supreme Court’s decision did not establish “precise boundaries of proximate cause” but rather asked lower courts to define “the contours of proximate cause under the FHA and decide how that standard applies to the City’s claims for lost property-tax revenue and increased municipal expenses.”
On April 12, the Office of Management and Budget posted notices pending regulatory review related to two HUD fair housing rules rescinded under the Trump administration. The first notice announces a pending proposed rule to reinstate HUD’s Discriminatory Effects Standard related to a September 2020 final rule issued by the agency, which amended its interpretation of the Fair Housing Act’s 2013 disparate impact standard. As previously covered by a Buckley Special Alert, the final rule was intended to align HUD’s 2013 Rule with the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs et al. v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc. The final rule included, among other things, a modification of the three-step burden-shifting framework in its 2013 Rule, several new elements that plaintiffs must show to establish that a policy or practice has a “discriminatory effect,” and specific defenses that defendants can assert to refute disparate impact claims. Earlier in January, President Biden directed HUD to examine the effects of the final rule, emphasizing that HUD has a “statutory duty to ensure compliance with the Fair Housing Act.” (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
The second notice relates to a pending interim final rule: Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing; Restoring Statutory Definitions and Certifications. As previously covered by InfoBytes, last July HUD announced plans to terminate the 2015 version of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule, and proposed a new final rule titled “Preserving Community and Neighborhood Choice.” At the time, HUD stated that the AFFH rule was, among other things, overly burdensome, costly, and ineffective.
On April 14, the CFPB issued its annual fair lending report to Congress, which outlines the Bureau’s efforts in 2020 to fulfill its fair lending mandate, while protecting consumers against the resulting economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the report, the Bureau continued to focus on promoting fair, equitable, and nondiscriminatory access to credit, highlighting several fair lending priorities that continued from years past such as mortgage origination, small business lending, and student loan origination. The report also discusses new policy areas and programs for fair lending examinations or investigations, including (i) the Fair Lending Help Desks; (ii) amendments concerning Regulation C, which will increase the permanent threshold for collecting, recording, and reporting data about open-end lines of credit from 100 to 200; and (iii) two HMDA data point articles. Additionally, the report discusses the Bureau’s efforts in expanding access to credit for underserved or underbanked populations, including: (i) hosting the first “Tech Sprint” (covered by InfoBytes here) to encourage regulatory innovation and stakeholder collaboration; (ii) continuing to examine and investigate institutions for compliance with HMDA and ECOA; (iii) engaging with stakeholders to discuss fair lending compliance, issues related to credit access, and policy decisions; and (iv) issuing Supervisory Recommendations relating to weak or nonexistent fair lending policies and procedures, risk assessments, and fair lending training. The report also provides information related to regulation, supervision, enforcement, and education efforts.
On March 19, HUD released a Conciliation Agreement between an individual consumer and a mortgage lender to resolve allegations that the lender violated the Fair Housing Act by denying the consumer’s loan for a group home for persons with disabilities. The lender denied any discriminatory behavior, and agreed to resolve the complaint by (i) paying the consumer $125,000; (ii) implementing additional training for employees, including home mortgage consultants, managers, and underwriters; and (iii) ensuring its policies comply with the Fair Housing Act.
On March 8, HUD released a Conciliation Agreement between an African-American consumer and a mortgage lender to resolve allegations that the consumer’s home was appraised at an amount lower than its actual worth due to her race. Under the Fair Housing Act, a homeowner’s race may not influence the valuation of a home, HUD stated. While the lender denied having engaged in any discriminatory behavior, it agreed to pay $50,000 to the consumer and will provide mandatory training to all of its home lending advisors and client care specialists nationwide on the reconsideration of value (ROV) process and fair lending issues related to appraisals. Training will include information on how to handle complaints of discrimination in the appraisal process and the process for consumers to submit ROV requests.
On March 9, the CFPB issued an interpretive rule to clarify that ECOA’s prohibition against sex discrimination includes sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. “This prohibition also covers discrimination based on actual or perceived nonconformity with traditional sex- or gender-based stereotypes, and discrimination based on an applicant’s social or other associations,” the Bureau stated. In 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, holding that “the prohibition against sex discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 encompasses sexual orientation discrimination and gender identity discrimination.” Following the Court’s decision, the Bureau issued a request for information (RFI) seeking, among other things, feedback on ways to provide clarity under ECOA and/or Regulation B related to the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of a sexual orientation or gender identity. (Covered by InfoBytes here.) Consistent with the Bostock decision and supported by many comments received in response to the RFI, the Bureau issued the interpretive rule to address any regulatory uncertainty that may still exist regarding the term “sex” under ECOA/Regulation B in order to protect against discrimination and ensure fair, equitable, and nondiscriminatory access to credit for both individuals and communities. The interpretive rule is effective upon publication in the Federal Register.
The Bureau also announced plans to review—and update as needed—publication and examination guidance documents to reflect the interpretive rule, and intends to take appropriate enforcement action against financial institutions that violate ECOA.