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DOJ, CFPB, and OCC announce aggressive redlining initiative; take action against national bank for alleged lending discrimination
On October 22, the DOJ, in collaboration with the CFPB and the OCC, announced a new initiative to combat redlining and lending discrimination. The Combatting Redlining Initiative will be led by the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division’s Housing and Civil Enforcement Section in partnership with U.S. Attorney’s offices, and will, among other things, (i) “ensure that fair lending enforcement is informed by local expertise on housing markets and the credit needs of local communities of color”; (ii) “[e]xpand the department’s analyses of potential redlining to both depository and non-depository institutions” (the DOJ noted that non-depository lenders now make the majority of mortgages in the U.S.); (iii) strengthen financial regulator partnerships to ensure fair lending violations are identified and referred to the DOJ; and (iv) increase fair lending coordination with state attorneys general to identify potential violations. Attorney General Merrick Garland stated that the initiative will “address modern-day redlining by making far more robust use of our fair lending authorities,” and marks the DOJ’s “most aggressive, coordinated effort to address redlining.” Garland noted that several redlining investigations are currently ongoing and more are expected to be opened in the upcoming months.
In his remarks, CFPB Director Rohit Chopra also warned that the Bureau will be “closely watching for digital redlining, disguised through so-called ‘neutral algorithms, that may reinforce the biases that have long existed.’” He added that “the speed with which banks and lenders are turning lending and advertising decisions over to algorithms is concerning,” and cautioned against assuming that algorithms will be bias free.
In conjunction with the announcement of the multi-agency initiative, the DOJ, CFPB, and OCC, took action against a national bank for alleged redlining practices. According to the complaint, the bank violated the Fair Housing Act, ECOA, and the CFPA by deliberately engaging in conduct that discouraged consumers in majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in the Memphis metropolitan area from seeking credit. The bank also allegedly established a limited number of branches in majority-Black and Hispanic communities, and did not provide mortgage-lending services to walk-in customers in these neighborhoods. The complaint further alleged, among other things, that the bank’s fair lending policies and procedures did not adequately ensure equal access to credit to majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhoods, and that internal governance and oversight committees to oversee fair lending were not established until after the OCC initiated a fair lending examination of the bank.
Under the terms of the proposed settlement, the bank will be required to pay a $5 million civil money penalty. The bank will also have to invest $3.85 million through a loan subsidy program to increase access to credit, and provide $400,000 to develop community partnerships to increase access to residential mortgage credit. The loan subsidy program will go towards closing cost assistance, down payment assistance, and payment of mortgage insurance premiums. Additionally, the bank must increase branches and outreach efforts in majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhoods, devote at least $200,000 in targeted advertising annually to generate applications for mortgages in these neighborhoods, and take remedial efforts to improve its fair lending compliance.
On October 7, NYDFS announced the first awards from the New York Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI) Fund to support access to safe and affordable banking services in historically underserved and redlined, low-income communities. According to the announcement, with a multi-year $25 million New York state-commitment, the CDFI Fund plans to allocate resources for the growth of CDFIs to assist in the delivery of affordable financial products and services and financial literacy programming to low- and moderate-income New York citizens. In addition, the CDFI Fund will expand “access to capital and technical assistance services for New York State small businesses and non-profit organizations.” In total, 31 CDFIs were selected to receive financial inclusion grants, which totaled nearly $5 million.
On August 30, the DOJ and the OCC announced coordinated efforts to resolve allegations of lending discrimination by a Georgia-based bank for violations of the Fair Housing Act and ECOA by allegedly redlining predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in Texas from 2013-2017. The OCC, which referred the matter to DOJ, ordered the bank to pay a $3.3 million civil money penalty. Under the DOJ’s settlement, the bank will invest more than $5.5 million to increase credit opportunities for residents of those neighborhoods.
On June 29, the CFPB released its summer 2021 Supervisory Highlights, which details its supervisory and enforcement actions in the areas of auto loan servicing, consumer reporting, debt collection, deposits, fair lending, mortgage origination and servicing, payday lending, private education loan origination, and student loan servicing. The findings of the report, which are published to assist entities in complying with applicable consumer laws, cover examinations that generally were completed between January and December of 2020. Highlights of the examination findings include:
- Auto Loan Servicing. Bureau examiners identified unfair acts or practices related to lender-placed collateral protection insurance (CPI), including instances where servicers charged unnecessary CPI or charged for CPI after repossession. Examiners also identified unfair acts or practices related to payoff amounts where consumers had ancillary product rebates due, and also found unfair or deceptive acts or practices related to payment application.
- Consumer Reporting. The Bureau found deficiencies in consumer reporting companies’ (CRCs) FCRA compliance related to the following requirements: (i) accuracy; (ii) security freezes applicable to certain CRCs; and (iii) ID theft block requests. Specifically, examiners found that CRCs continued to include information from furnishers despite receiving furnisher dispute responses that “suggested that the furnishers were no longer sources of reliable, verifiable information about consumers.” Additionally, the report noted instances where furnishers failed to update and correct information or conduct reasonable investigations of direct disputes.
- Debt Collection. The report found that examiners found instances of FDCPA violations where debt collectors (i) made calls to a consumer’s workplace; (ii) communicated with third parties; (iii) failed to stop communications after receiving a written request or a refusal to pay; (iv) harassed consumers regarding their inability to pay; (v) communicated, and threatened to communicate, false credit information to CRCs; (vi) made false representations or used deceptive collection means; (vii) entered inaccurate information regarding state interest rate caps into an automated system; (viii) unlawfully initiated wage garnishments; and (ix) failed to send complete validation notices.
- Deposits. The Bureau discussed violations related to Regulation E and Regulation DD, including error resolution violations, issues with provisional credits, failure to investigate, failure to remediate errors, and overdraft opt-in and disclosure violations.
- Fair Lending. The report noted instances where examiners cited violations of HMDA/ Regulation C involving HMDA loan application register inaccuracies, and instances where lenders, among other things, violated ECOA/Regulation B “by engaging in acts or practices directed at prospective applicants that would have discouraged reasonable people in minority neighborhoods in Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) from applying for credit.”
- Mortgage Origination. The Bureau cited violations of Regulation Z and the CFPA related to loan originator compensation, title insurance disclosures, and deceptive waivers of borrowers’ rights in security deed riders and loan security agreements.
- Mortgage Servicing. The Bureau cited violations of Regulation X, including those related to dual tracking violations, misrepresentations regarding foreclosure timelines, and PMI terminations.
- Payday Lending. The report discussed violations of the CFPA for payday lenders, including falsely representing an intent to sue or that a credit check would not be run, and presenting deceptive repayment options to borrowers that were contractually eligible for no-cost repayment plans.
- Private Education Loan Origination. Bureau examiners identified deceptive acts or practices related to the marketing of private education loan rates.
- Student Loan Servicing. Bureau examiners found several types of misrepresentations servicers made regarding consumer eligibility for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, and identified unfair acts or practices related to a servicer’s “failure to reverse negative consequences of automatic natural disaster forbearances.” Additionally, examiners identified unfair act or practices related to failing to honor consumer payment allocation instructions or providing inaccurate monthly payment amounts to consumers after a loan transfer.
The report also highlights recent supervisory program developments and enforcement actions.
On October 23, a Chicago-based nonbank mortgage company moved to dismiss a CFPB redlining action on the grounds that the Bureau’s complaint “improperly seek[s]” to expand ECOA to “prospective applicants.” As previously covered by a Buckley Special Alert, in July, the Bureau filed a complaint against the mortgage company alleging the mortgage company engaged in redlining in violation of ECOA and the Consumer Financial Protection Act. The Bureau argued, among other things, that the company redlined African American neighborhoods in the Chicago area by discouraging their residents from applying for mortgage loans from the company and by discouraging nonresidents from applying for loans from the company for homes in these neighborhoods. To support its arguments, the Bureau cited to (i) a number of racially disparaging comments allegedly made by the owner and employees on the company’s broadcasts; (ii) the company’s comparatively low application volume from African American neighborhoods and applicants; (iii) its lack of specific marketing targeting the African American community in Chicago; (iv) and its failure to employ African American mortgage loan officers.
In support of its motion to dismiss, the mortgage company argued that the Bureau’s complaint is “flawed” by seeking to expand the reach of ECOA to “prospective applicants” and regulate the company’s behavior before a credit transaction begins. In addition to expanding the application of ECOA, the company argued that the Bureau is attempting to impose—through Regulation B’s “discouragement” definition—(i) “affirmative requirements to target advertising to specific racial or ethnic groups”; (ii) “a demographic hiring quota”; and (iii) “a requirement to have business success with specific racial or ethnic groups.” Moreover, the company argued the Bureau’s interpretation of ECOA and Regulation B violates the company’s First Amendment rights by attempting to regulate “the content and viewpoint of protected speech . . . in a way that is unconstitutionally overbroad and vague.” Lastly, the company argued the Bureau similarly violated the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause by seeking to enforce Regulation B’s definition of “discouragement,” because it is unconstitutionally vague.
On July 15, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau filed a complaint against a Chicago-based nonbank mortgage company alleging fair lending violations predicated, in part, on statements made by the company’s owner and other employees during radio shows and podcasts from 2014 through 2017. The complaint, filed in federal court in Illinois, marks the first instance in which a federal regulator has taken a public enforcement action against a nondepository institution based on allegations of redlining.
According to the CFPB, the mortgage company violated the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and the Consumer Financial Protection Act by engaging in discriminatory marketing and applicant outreach practices that allegedly:
On January 30, the city of Miami dismissed fair housing lawsuits against four of the largest banks in the U.S. (see orders here, here, here and here). The suits—filed in 2013—claimed that redlining by the banks led to a high rate of mortgage loan defaults, foreclosures, and property vacancies, causing property values to go down, which resulted in reduced tax revenues to the city. As previously covered by InfoBytes, in May, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit determined that Miami made plausible claims that the lending practices of two of the banks violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and eventually reduced property tax revenues. Philadelphia recently reached a settlement with a large bank after making similar allegations regarding discriminatory mortgage lending practices. (Covered by InfoBytes here.)
On December 16, a national bank and the city of Philadelphia agreed to a $10 million settlement in a fair lending suit filed against a national bank in 2017 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The settlement resolves claims against the bank alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act, as previously covered in InfoBytes. Specifically, the city alleged that the bank engaged in discriminatory mortgage lending practices by placing minority borrowers in loans with less favorable terms than loans to similar non-minority borrowers. According to the complaint, these allegedly discriminatory loans increased foreclosure rates and resulted in falling property values, particularly in minority and low-income neighborhoods in Philadelphia. The empty properties and lower property values in turn reduced tax revenues and increased costs to the city to pay for municipal services including police, fire fighting, housing programs, and also maintenance for the growing number of empty properties. The court had previously denied the bank’s motion to dismiss, (prior InfoBytes coverage here), which argued, among other things, that the city had failed to show that the bank’s alleged lending practices were the proximate cause of the city’s harm.
On July 29, HUD announced a conciliation agreement to resolve allegations that a California-based bank engaged in redlining practices from 2014 to at least 2017 against African-American and Latino mortgage applicants in the Los Angeles region. In 2017, a California-based community advocacy organization filed a complaint with HUD asserting that the bank violated the Fair Housing Act by engaging in discriminatory acts, which allegedly resulted in a lower number of mortgages made to African-American and Latino borrowers relative to the area’s demographics and to the industry as a whole. Additionally, the complaint claimed that the bank located and maintained its branches in areas that do not serve minority neighborhoods or borrowers. While the bank denies having engaged in any discriminatory behavior, it agreed to (i) invest $5 million in a loan subsidy fund to increase credit opportunities for residents of majority-minority neighborhoods; (ii) contribute $1.3 million to advertising and community outreach; and (iii) provide $1 million in grants for various financial education, counseling, community revitalization, and homelessness programs. The bank also committed to originating “$100,000,000 in home purchase, home improvement and home refinance loans to borrowers in majority-minority areas, and to open a full-service branch serving the banking and credit needs of residents in a majority-minority and low- and moderate-income neighborhood.”
On June 13, the DOJ announced a settlement with an Indiana bank resolving allegations the bank engaged in unlawful “redlining” in Indianapolis by intentionally avoiding predominantly African-American neighborhoods in violation of the Fair Housing Act and ECOA. In the complaint, the DOJ alleges that from 2011 to 2017, among other things, the bank (i) excluded Marion County in Indianapolis and its “50 majority-Black census tracts” from its Community Reinvestment Act assessment area; (ii) did not have any branch locations in majority-Black areas of the county; (iii) did not market in the majority-Black areas of the country; and (iv) had a residential mortgage lending policy that allegedly showed preference to the location of borrowers, not the creditworthiness. Under the settlement agreement, which is subject to court approval, the bank will, among other things, expand its business services and lending to the predominantly African-American neighborhoods in Indianapolis and will invest at least $1.12 million in a special loan subsidy fund to be used to increase credit opportunities in the specified neighborhoods. Additionally, the bank will designate a full-time Director of Community Lending and Development to oversee the continued development of the bank’s lending in the specified areas.