July 11, 2007
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The NAACP filed suit in Los Angeles federal court against 14 of the country’s largest lenders, alleging systematic, institutionalized racism in sub-prime home mortgage lending. This is the first known lawsuit that challenges such lending practices on a broad scale. The suit was announced at the NAACP’s 98th annual convention, themed “Power Beyond Measure,” in Detroit through July 12.
According to the lawsuit, African American homeowners who received sub-prime mortgage loans from these lenders were more than 30 percent more likely to be issued a higher rate loan than Caucasian borrowers with the same qualifications.
“We are asking our members and all African American borrowers who bought or refinanced a home in the last five years to come forward and tell us their stories or at least re-examine their mortgages,” said NAACP National Board of Directors Chairman Julian Bond. “They can help us correct these egregious, demoralizing practices that too often turn the so-called American dream of homeownership into a nightmare.”
Other studies cited in the lawsuit demonstrate that disparities are pervasive. In fact, upper income African Americans are more than twice as likely to receive higher cost loans as their lower income white counterparts. Just this morning, USA Today reported that the National Community Reinvestment Coalition’s most recent study underscores this point, finding that discrimination against minorities persists in mortgage lending. The Federal Reserve Board, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the FDIC have all made similar observations.
“Lenders named in the suit, on average, made high cost sub-prime loans to higher qualified African Americans 54 percent of the time, compared to 23 percent of the time for Caucasians,” said NAACP Interim President & CEO Dennis Courtland Hayes.
Mortgage lenders named in the lawsuit include: Ameriquest, Fremont Investment & Loan, Option One, WMC Mortgage, Long Beach Mortgage, BNC Mortgage, Accredited Home Lenders, Encore Credit, Bear Sterns First Franklin Financial, HSBC Finance and Washington Mutual.
“The NAACP is bringing this suit as part of its longstanding demand that offending lenders stop discriminatory practices and bring their activities into compliance with federal law including the Fair Housing Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, and the Civil Rights Act,” said NAACP Interim General Counsel Angela Ciccolo.
Even when creditworthiness and other risk characteristics are accounted for, African Americans are still significantly more likely to get higher rate loans. According to the lawsuit, these statistical disparities are not mere coincidences, but instead are a result of systematic and predatory targeting of African-Americans borrowers.
“My credit record warrants a better interest rate,” said Amara Weaver of the Waukesha County NAACP in Wisconsin, whose mortgage was shifted to a sub-prime lender immediately after closing on a property in her neighborhood that had been a drug den. “As a professional if I get treated that way, I know those who are less fortunate are victimized more often. This situation lets me know I can’t expect equal treatment and that is frustrating.”
“It’s extremely frustrating,” added Michelle Allison of the NAACP’s Merced Branch in California’s Central Valley. She refinanced with a major lender and was locked into a prepayment loan and now owes $100,000 above what she initially requested. “It’s like being over a barrel. I just wanted to be treated fairly and receive the best service. I was not given options or enough information for me to make an alternate decision. I want to get back to where I was financially before I received my loan.”
NAACP branches across the nation are addressing the predatory lending issue. In Michigan, the Detroit branch’s executive director Heaster Wheeler chairs the state’s Predatory Lending Task Force. He and others have met with Gov. Jennifer Granholm who has instructed the state insurance and banking commissioner as well the state’s civil rights office to coordinate with the branch to craft further legislation and use their authority more strictly to enforce current laws. The Washington, D.C. Branch has partnered with the American Association of Retired Persons. Through workshops, seminars, church meetings and other gatherings it has been discovered that the typical predatory lending victim in that city is an elderly African American female who is single and on social security. They are encouraged to refinance for home improvements and other reasons. The NAACP’s Connecticut State Conference has a committee to address predatory lending issues and has been actively engaged in assisting individuals in their cases. They are also encouraging legislative action and are conducting community education initiatives.
In addition to the NAACP’s Legal Department, the organization and the proposed class of its members are represented by Feazell & Tighe LLP of Austin and Kabatek Brown Kellner LLP of Los Angeles and the law office of Gary L. Bledsoe.
Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities, conducting voter mobilization and monitoring equal opportunity in the public and private sectors.