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On September 5, the U.S. Treasury Department and HUD released complementary proposals in response to a presidential memorandum issued last March (previously covered by InfoBytes here) directing the departments to develop plans to end the conservatorships of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (GSEs) and reform the housing finance system.
According to a press release released by the Treasury Department, the Treasury Housing Reform Plan outlines several broad goals and legislative and administrative reforms intended to protect taxpayers and assist homebuyers. Included in the Reform Plan are measures to privatize the GSEs, with the Treasury Department emphasizing that FHFA “should begin the process of ending” the conservatorships. “Central to this objective will be ensuring that the GSEs and their successors are appropriately capitalized to remain viable as going concerns after a severe economic downturn and also to ensure that shareholders and unsecured creditors, rather than taxpayers, bear losses.” Other notable agency and limited congressional action highlights include:
- Congress should authorize an explicit, paid-for guarantee by Ginnie Mae on qualified mortgage-backed securities for single-family and multifamily loans.
- Private sector participation should increase in the mortgage market to compete with the GSEs, and ensure a level playing field for lenders of all sizes.
- Congress should replace GSEs’ statutory affordable housing goals with a “more efficient, transparent, and accountable mechanism” to support underserved borrowers and expand HUD’s affordable housing activities.
- GSEs under FHFA’s capital rule should be required to maintain “capital sufficient to remain viable as a going concern after a severe economic downturn,” the cap on the GSEs’ investments in mortgage-related assets should be further reduced, and GSEs’ retained mortgage portfolios should be restricted to “solely supporting [the] business of securitizing mortgage-backed securities.”
- Mortgages eligible for GSE guarantees should have to comply with strict underwriting requirements.
- The Qualified Mortgage rule should be simplified and the so-called QM patch that allows GSEs to avoid certain regulations should be eliminated (see previous InfoBytes coverage on the CFPB’s advance notice of proposed rulemaking to allow the QM patch to expire here).
- Access to 30-year fix-rate mortgages for qualified homebuyers should be preserved.
HUD’s Housing Finance Reform Plan, released in conjunction with Treasury’s proposal, addresses the role of FHA and Ginnie Mae, and outlines steps to reduce risk in the FHA portfolio. According to HUD’s press release, the proposal focuses on four objectives: refocusing FHA to its core mission, protecting American taxpayers, providing tools to FHA and Ginnie Mae to appropriately manage risk, and providing liquidity to the housing finance system. Among other objectives, HUD’s plan (i) stresses that FHA, which serves low- and moderate-income borrowers, “must ensure that borrowers are creditworthy and that they have access to loans that meet their financial needs without creating undue risk”; (ii) recommends that FHA and FHFA establish a “formalized collaborative approach” to streamline government-supported mortgage programs to ensure they are “not competing and do not crowd private capital out of the marketplace;” (iii) encourages continued efforts to reduce loan churning; (iv) encourages a continued partnership between FHA and DOJ “to provide more clarity on how the agencies will consult on the appropriate use of the [False Claims Act]” to provide regulatory certainty to lenders; (v) encourages FHA to develop servicing standards for home equity conversion mortgage programs to reduce operational and financial burdens; and (vi) recommends that FHA develop a mortgage origination risk tool that integrates an automated underwriting system.
On August 22, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California granted in part and denied in part a national bank’s motion to dismiss an action by the City of Sacramento (City) alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and California Fair Employment and Housing Act. In its complaint, the City alleged that the bank violated the FHA and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act by providing minority borrowers mortgage loans with less favorable terms than similarly situated non-minority borrowers, leading to disproportionate defaults and foreclosures causing reduced property tax revenue and increased costs for municipal services for the city. The bank moved to dismiss the action. In reviewing the motion, the court looked to the 2017 Supreme Court decision in Bank of America v. City of Miami (previously covered by a Buckley Special Alert), which held that municipal plaintiffs may be “aggrieved persons” authorized to bring suit under the FHA against lenders for injuries allegedly flowing from discriminatory lending practices. The court rejected the majority of the bank’s arguments, denying the motion as to the City’s tax revenue claims and non-economic claims. The court concluded that “there is ‘no reason to think as a general matter that the City’s [tax revenue] claims are out of step with the ‘nature of the statutory cause of action’ and the remedial scheme that Congress created’” in the FHA. Conversely, as for the claims for increased municipal services costs, such as police, fire fighting, and code enforcement, the court found that the claims “rely on conclusory allegations and a foreseeability-only theory without establishing proximate cause” and granted the bank’s motion to dismiss, but allowed the City leave to amend the complaint to establish proximate cause.
On June 15, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted in part and denied in part a national bank’s motion to dismiss an action brought by the City of Oakland, alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and California Fair Employment and Housing Act. In its September 2015 complaint, Oakland alleged that the bank violated the FHA and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act by providing minority borrowers mortgage loans with less favorable terms than similarly situated non-minority borrowers, leading to disproportionate defaults and foreclosures causing reduced property tax revenue for the city. After the 2017 Supreme Court decision in Bank of America v. City of Miami (previously covered by a Buckley Sandler Special Alert), which held that municipal plaintiffs may be “aggrieved persons” authorized to bring suit under the FHA against lenders for injuries allegedly flowing from discriminatory lending practices, Oakland filed an amended complaint. The amended complaint expanded Oakland’s alleged injuries to include (i) decreased property tax revenue; (ii) increases in the city’s expenditures; and (iii) neutralized spending in Oakland’s fair-housing programs. The bank moved to dismiss all of Oakland’s claims on the basis that the city had failed to sufficiently allege proximate cause. The court granted the bank’s motion without prejudice as to claims based on the second alleged injury to the extent it sought monetary relief and claims based on the third alleged injury entirely. The court allowed the matter to proceed with respect to claims based on the first injury and, to the extent it seeks injunctive and declaratory relief, the second injury.
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.
ABA, State Bankers Associations Respond to HUD’s Request for Comment; Discuss Need to Clarify Disparate Impact
On May 15, HUD issued a request for comment on its review of regulations as required by Executive Order 13777, which compels each agency to review and carry out regulatory reform. According to the request for comment, the self-assessment will address suggestions for “specific current regulations that may be outdated, ineffective, or excessively burdensome, and therefore, warranting repeal, replacement, or modification.” The request, which closed for public comment on June 14, received 100 comments from state bankers associations, financial institutions, and individuals.
American Bankers Association (ABA) and State Bankers Associations. On June 14, a joint comment letter was sent on behalf of the ABA and state bankers associations representing all 50 states. A key issue raised by the letter was that HUD adopted an incorrect and improper standard for disparate impact liability in its rule implementing the Fair Housing Act’s discriminatory effects standard—a rule the groups calls “outdated and legally wrong.” Under the terms of the rule, HUD provided that “[l]iability may be established under the Fair Housing Act based on a practice’s discriminatory effect . . . even if the practice was not motivated by a discriminatory intent” and then articulated a burden shifting framework for such claims in which a plaintiff can establish a prima facie case using statistics alone. However, the groups claim that the burden shifting framework conflicts with a Supreme Court decision in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, and assert that “a case premised on statistics alone is a prime example of an abuse of disparate impact.” The groups further wonder if HUD will “maintain the supervisory view that statistics alone can establish a prima facie case, as stated in the [r]ule[.]” It is the opinion of the groups that the Supreme Court enforced strict limitations of the use of disparate impact—“in stark contrast to the Rule’s approach”—in order to “avoid injecting the consideration of race into decision making and . . . address important constitutional concerns.” Thus, “[a] rule that creates, rather than eliminates, confusion undermines its own purpose and is entirely ineffective.” Furthermore, the letter (i) indicates that the groups are willing to engage in discussions with HUD on the topic of disparate impact, and (ii) raises the issue of whether a revised rule or a reopening of comments on the existing rule are in order.
DOJ Intervenes in False Claims Act Litigation Against City of Los Angeles for Alleged Misuse of HUD Funds
On June 7, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that the United States has intervened (see proposed order here) in a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles (City) alleging that the City misused Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds intended for affordable housing that is accessible to people with disabilities. See U.S. ex rel Ling et al v. City of Los Angeles et al, No. 11-00974 (D.C. Cal. 2017).
The DOJ joins in the lawsuit originally instituted by a disabled Los Angeles resident, who filed the False Claims Act (FCA) suit as a whistleblower. The FCA whistleblower provision allows private citizens to file suit on behalf of the government and likewise permits the government to intervene in the suit. Together, the DOJ and the whistleblower allege that the City and a city agency called the CRA/LA falsely certified compliance with federal accessibility laws, including the Fair Housing Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act as well as the duty to further fair housing in the City, in order to receive millions of dollars in HUD housing grants.
As recipients of the HUD funds, the City and the CRA/LA were obligated to ensure that (i) “five percent of all units in certain federally-assisted multifamily housing be accessible for people with mobility impairments”; (ii) “an additional two percent be accessible for people with visual and auditory impairments”; (iii) “the City and the CRA/LA maintain a publicly available list of accessible units and their accessibility features”; (iv) “the City and the CRA/LA have a monitoring program in place to ensure people with disabilities are not excluded from participation in, denied the benefits of, or otherwise subjected to discrimination in, federally-assisted housing programs and activities solely on the basis of a disability.” The false certifications resulted in too few accessible housing units, the suit claims.
The City denies the allegations.
On May 26, the Ninth Circuit issued decisions affirming the District Court’s decisions to grant summary judgments in two separate lawsuits brought against two different national banks by the city of Los Angeles (city). (View the district court’s summary judgments here and here). In separate appeals, the city alleged that each of the banks violated the Fair Housing Act by engaging in discriminatory mortgage lending to minority borrowers. The city also asserted that this practice resulted in risky loans and increased foreclosures, which lowered the city’s property tax revenues.
The appellate court disagreed with the city. In both decisions, the court observed that the city’s theory of liability was based on alleged “disparate impact,” which requires the city to demonstrate both the existence of a disparity and a facially neutral policy that caused the disparity.” The court noted that under established precedent a disparate impact claim, to succeed, must be supported by evidence of a robust causal connection between the disparity and the facially neutral policy. In the first case, the court held that the city failed to show such a robust causal connection, and in the second, it found “[t]he record does not reflect that the city raised a genuine issue of material fact as to a policy or policies with a robust casual connection to the racial disparity.” (View appellate memoranda for these cases here and here).
On May 1, the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 that municipal plaintiffs may be “aggrieved persons” authorized to bring suit under the Fair Housing Act against lenders for injuries allegedly flowing from discriminatory lending practices. However, the Court held that such injuries must be proximately caused by the alleged misconduct—rather than simply a foreseeable result. Some commentators suggest that the Court’s zone of interest analysis will result in the filing of new claims. Our view of this decision is that it will reduce such litigation efforts as prospective municipal plaintiffs recognize that it will be more difficult to survive early dispositive motions focused on whether the damages claims bear a direct relationship to the conduct alleged.
If you have questions about the ruling or other related issues, visit our Fair Lending practice page for more information, or contact a Buckley Sandler attorney with whom you have worked in the past.
On March 10, HUD released a Conciliation Agreement with an Illinois-based lender alleged to have discriminated against African-American and Hispanic borrowers seeking mortgage loans. The complaint, brought by HOPE Fair Housing Center (HOPE), claims the lack of bank branches in majority African-American and Hispanic communities resulted in fewer financial services being offered to applicants based on their race and national origin in violation of the Fair Housing Act. HOPE’s complaint also claims that African-American and Hispanic applicants were more likely to receive less favorable mortgage terms than other races. As part of the settlement, the lender will establish a $1 million loan program to “increase mortgage lending to residents in majority African-American and Hispanic areas” and will pay $75,000 to HOPE. Among other things, the agreement also states the lender will offer consumer education outreach in minority areas and provide fair lending training for its staff.
On June 29, the CFPB announced a joint action with the DOJ against a regional bank with operations in Memphis, Tennessee for allegedly engaging in discriminatory mortgage lending practices in violation of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA) and the Fair Housing Act (FHA). According to the CFPB’s and the DOJ’s complaint, between January 1, 2011 and December 31, 2015, the bank (i) engaged in redlining practices in the Memphis area by structuring its business to meet the credit needs of majority-White neighborhoods while ignoring the credit needs of individuals in majority-minority neighborhoods; (ii) discriminated against African American borrowers by allowing its employees to practice discretion in making credit decisions on mortgage loans, which ultimately resulted in African Americans being denied certain mortgages at significantly greater rates than similarly situated white applicants; (iii) charged African Americans, on average, 30 basis points more for first lien and 64 basis points more for second lien mortgage loans than similarly situated white borrowers; and (iv) implemented a policy under which loan officers were advised to deny minority applicants more quickly than other applicants and to deny credit assistance to “borderline” applicants. The complaint further alleges that a series of matched-pair tests at Memphis branches “revealed that the Bank treated African American testers less favorably than similarly situated white testers.”
Subject to approval, the proposed consent order would require the bank to take several remedial actions to improve its allegedly discriminatory mortgage lending practices, among which include: (i) allocating $4 million to a loan subsidy program that offers mortgage loans on a more affordable basis to applicants in majority-minority neighborhoods; (ii) spending at least $300,000 on a targeted advertising and outreach campaign that considers the results of a credit needs assessment performed by an independent third-party auditor, advertises the loan subsidy program, and generates mortgage loan applicants from qualified residents in majority-minority neighborhoods; (iii) spending $500,000 on local partnerships that provide education, credit repair, and other assistance in majority-minority neighborhoods; (iv) opening an additional branch or loan production office in a high-minority neighborhood; (v) extending credit offers to African American consumers who were denied mortgage loans as a result of the bank’s allegedly discriminatory underwriting policy; and (vi) implementing policies that ensure employees provide equal assistance to mortgage loan applicants, regardless of race or other prohibited characteristics. Under the proposed consent order, the bank would pay $2.78 million in consumer redress and a $3 million civil penalty. The CFPB’s proposed consent order notes that the bank has “recently taken a number of steps to improve its compliance management system, reduce its fair lending risk, and increase its lending in minority areas.”
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