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On March 1, the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut signed an order dismissing with prejudice a Fair Housing Act complaint filed by the Connecticut Fair Housing Center through its legal counsel, the National Consumer Law Center, against a Connecticut-based bank. The bank denied all allegations of wrongdoing and liability. Under the terms of the stipulation of dismissal, the bank agreed voluntarily to resolve the claims and, among other things, to (i) revise its fair lending policies and procedures and conduct fair lending training for all employees; (ii) open a loan production office in Hartford; (iii) spend $230,000 on targeted marketing and advertising to minority communities, and provide additional consumer financial education opportunities; (iv) invest $300,000 for subsidies to promote home ownership and enhance access to credit in identified communities; (v) identify a Community Development Officer within the bank; and (vi) expand its community development loan program by investing $5 million over the next three years.
On February 1, Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard spoke at the “Research Symposium on the Community Reinvestment Act” hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia to discuss the need to update Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) regulations. Brainard summarized comment letters received in response to the OCC’s Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) published last August (previously covered by InfoBytes) seeking input on ways to transform or modernize the CRA regulatory framework, and discussed the following six key takeaways:
- There is broad support for the CRA among commenters—including academics, financial institutions, banking trade associations, community organizations, consumer groups, and citizens—who, among other things, applaud the volume of CRA loans and investments that support low-and-moderate income households and communities.
- There is general agreement among commenters for the need to modernize—but not completely overhaul—CRA assessment areas, while retaining its core focus.
- Commenters support different performance tests for different types of banks. According to Brainard, there is broad agreement that “CRA regulations cannot be one-size-fits-all” and should be tailored to banks of different sizes, as well as different business models.
- CRA modernization should keep the focus on underserved areas. Commenters discussed concerns about “CRA hotspots and credit deserts,” and the need for incentives to ensure CRA capital can reach underserved communities has been a common theme at regional roundtables.
- Commenters offered recommendations on how to increase the “consistency and predictability of CRA evaluations and ratings.”
- Roundtable discussions as well as commenters have emphasized the “historical context of the CRA as it relates to redlining practices,” and demonstrated strong support for the CRA to retain its underlying focus of reaching all underserved borrowers, including low-income communities and communities of color.
CFPB’s latest fair lending report focuses on promoting fair, equitable, and nondiscriminatory access to credit
On December 4, the CFPB issued its sixth fair lending report to Congress, which outlines the Bureau’s efforts in 2017. According to the report, in 2017, the Bureau continued to focus on promoting fair, equitable, and nondiscriminatory access to credit, highlighting several fair lending priorities such as redlining, mortgage and student loan servicing, and small business lending. The report also addresses the Bureau’s risk-based prioritization approach to supervisory examinations and enforcement activity relating to underwriting, pricing, steering, servicing, and HMDA data integrity. Specifically, the report covers fair lending supervision and enforcement activities, guidance and rulemaking, and interagency coordination efforts, including (i) taking enforcement actions against a bank for alleged credit card lending discrimination, and a mortgage lender that allegedly failed to accurately report consumer application and loan data; (ii) issuing its first no-action letter to a company that uses alternative, non-traditional data and modeling techniques “to make credit and pricing decisions to support innovation and enable people with limited credit history, among others, to obtain credit or obtain credit on better terms”; (iii) collaborating with other federal banking regulators to issue, among other things, the “HMDA Examiner Transaction Testing Guidelines,” which present uniform guidelines for examiners when evaluating whether covered mortgage lenders are reporting accurate data; and (iv) communicating fair lending information to the public through various platforms. Notably, the report is silent regarding plans for upcoming fair lending activities in 2019, unlike previous reports that included future actions. (See InfoBytes coverage on the 2016 report here.)
On October 22, the Pennsylvania Attorney General announced a request for mortgage borrowers and home-loan applicants who believe they may be victims of redlining to file complaints with that office. The announcement states that the Attorney General is investigating evidence of redlining by financial institutions in Philadelphia neighborhoods where lenders either refused to make loans due to the applicant’s race or dissuaded minorities from applying for mortgage loans. The investigation is in response to an investigative article identifying a pattern of racial discrimination in mortgage lending in the Philadelphia area.
On July 26, the Federal Reserve Board released its inaugural Consumer Compliance Supervision Bulletin (Bulletin) to share information about the agency’s supervisory observations and other noteworthy developments related to consumer protection, and provide practical steps for banking organizations to consider when addressing consumer compliance risk. The first Bulletin focuses on fair lending issues related to the practice of redlining and outlines key risk factors the Fed considers in its review, such as (i) whether a bank’s Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) assessment areas inappropriately exclude minority census tracts; (ii) whether a bank’s Home Mortgage Disclosure Act or CRA lending data show “statistically significant disparities in majority minority census tracts when compared with similar lenders”; or (iii) whether the bank’s branches, loan production offices, or marketing strategies appear to exclude majority minority census tracts. Practical steps for mitigating redlining risk are also provided. The Bulletin also discusses fair lending risk related to mortgage pricing discrimination against minority borrowers, small dollar loan pricing that discriminates against minorities and women, disability discrimination, and maternity leave discrimination.
The Bulletin additionally addresses unfair or deceptive acts or practices risks related to overdrafts, misrepresentations made by loan officers, and the marketing of student financial products and services. The Bulletin also highlights regulatory and policy developments related to the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council’s updated Uniform Interagency Consumer Compliance Rating System along with recent changes to the Military Lending Act.
On May 8, the Department of Justice announced a settlement with a Minnesota community bank to resolve allegations that the lender excluded predominantly minority neighborhoods from its mortgage lending service in violation of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA). According to the complaint filed in 2017, between 2010 and 2015, the bank engaged in unlawful redlining in and around Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota by meeting the residential credit needs of individuals in majority-white census tracts, but avoided serving similar needs in majority-minority census tracts. The settlement requires the bank to expand its banking services in predominantly minority neighborhoods, including opening one full service branch within the specified census tract. In addition to compliance monitoring and reporting requirements, the bank is also required to (i) employ a Community Development Officer and an Executive leader; (ii) spend a minimum of $300,000 on advertising, outreach, and education and credit repair initiatives; (iii) invest a minimum of $300,000 in a program for special purpose loan subsidies; and (iv) continue to provide fair lending training to all employees.
On January 16, a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania denied a national bank’s motion to dismiss the City of Philadelphia’s (City) claims that the bank engaged in alleged discriminatory lending practices in violation of the Fair Housing Act (FHA). As previously covered in InfoBytes, the City filed a complaint in May of last year against the bank alleging discrimination under both the disparate treatment and disparate impact theories. The City asserted that the bank’s practice of offering better terms to similarly-situated, non-minority borrowers or refusing to make loans in minority neighborhoods has led to foreclosures and vacant homes, which in turn, has resulted in a suppression of property tax revenue and increased cost of providing services such as police, fire fighting, and other municipal services. In support of its motion to dismiss, the bank argued, among other things, that the City’s claim (i) is time barred; (ii) improperly alleges the disparate impact theory; and (iii) fails to allege proximate cause as required by a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling (see previous Special Alert here).
While the court expressed “serious concerns about the viability of the economic injury aspect of the City’s claim with regard to proximate cause,” the court found that the bank “has not met its burden to show why the City’s entire FHA claim should be dismissed.” Consequently, the court held that the case may proceed to discovery beyond the two-year statute of limitations period for FHA violations in order to provide the City an opportunity to prove whether the bank’s policy caused a racial disparity that constituted a violation continuing into the limitations period.
On May 15, the City of Philadelphia filed a lawsuit against a national bank (Bank) alleging that it violated the Fair Housing Act by engaging in discriminatory lending practices that targeted minority borrowers. (See City of Phila. v. Wells Fargo & Co., Case No. 2:17-cv-02203-LDD, 2017 WL 2060317 (E.D. Pa.).) The complaint alleges that beginning in 2004 and continuing through the present, the Bank engaged in “a continuous and unbroken discriminatory pattern and practice of issuing higher cost or more onerous mortgage loans to minority borrowers” while offering better terms to similarly situated non-minority borrowers. The City’s complaint alleges discrimination under both disparate treatment and disparate impact theories. The City claims that the Bank has a long history of both redlining (the practice of refusing to make loans in minority neighborhoods) and reverse redlining (the practice of targeting higher cost loans or loans with less favorable terms to minority neighborhoods). The complaint further describes a pattern of knowing and intentional discrimination by the Bank, relying on statistical analyses finding, among others, that: (i) a loan for a home in a predominantly minority neighborhood was 4.7 times more likely to go into foreclosure than a loan on a home in a mainly white neighborhood; (ii) African American and Latino borrowers were more than twice as likely to receive a high-cost loan as white borrowers; and (iii) when credit scores were factored in for borrowers with FICO scores of more than 660, African American borrowers were more than 2.5 times more likely than white borrowers to receive a high cost loan, and Latino borrowers more than twice as likely. As a result of the foreclosures and vacant homes, the City says it suffered a suppression of property tax revenue and increased cost of providing services such as police, fire fighting, and other municipal services.
City of Miami Suit. As previously covered in InfoBytes, the Supreme Court recently ruled that municipal plaintiffs may be “aggrieved persons” authorized to bring suit under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) against lenders for injuries allegedly flowing from discriminatory lending practices, although the five-justice majority held that such injuries must be proximately caused by the FHA violations. The Supreme Court returned the City’s lawsuit to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit because, while the Court found that the City’s injuries appeared to be a foreseeable result of the lender’s practices, this was not enough to establish proximate cause. Therefore, it remains to be seen whether the City can show proximate cause.
On December 16, the Director of the Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity at the CFPB announced the Bureau’s fair lending priorities for 2017. According to Ms. Ficklin’s blog post, the CFPB will increase its efforts to prevent credit discrimination and improve credit access by focusing on redlining, mortgage and student loan servicing, and small business lending. Specifically, the Bureau will increase its focus on evaluating: (i) whether lenders are intentionally avoiding lending in minority neighborhoods; (ii) if delinquent borrowers face more difficulty in working out payment arrangements with mortgage or student loan servicers because of their race or ethnicity; and (iii) whether women-owned and minority-owned small businesses experience discrimination when applying for credit.
On October 25, CFPB Director Richard Cordray delivered remarks to the Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA). Cordray highlighted the CFPB's role in helping the housing economy to recover, including regulatory actions from 2014 to the present. Director Cordray also advised industry participants that they should expect more regulation and oversight over the coming year, explaining that the cost of compliance, though burdensome, was "inevitable" in light of the "far-reaching" effects of the financial crisis that Congress was trying to fix.
Director Cordray revealed three priority areas for enforcement and supervision in the next year: (i) consumer complaints, explaining that the CFPB will now require underperforming servicers to document the technology and process changes used to implement the agency’s recently released servicing regulations, because, among other reasons, the Bureau considers monitoring and addressing the process through which complaints are handled part of "a basic component" of any compliance effort; (ii) redlining, noting that the Bureau has identified “redlining” as a target for its supervisory work in the coming year, and has teamed up with the DOJ to bring “major enforcement actions” against institutions found to be discriminatory in their lending practices; (iii) RESPA violations, announcing that the CFPB will continue to adhere to its 2015 bulletin regarding marketing servicing agreements despite the recent PHH ruling. He further noted that the PHH case "is not final at this point" and that the Bureau "respectfully disagrees" with the finding.
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