State of Lending for Latinos

Mark Moz/ Commons- Flickr

The Center for Responsible Lending has posted a fact sheet, The State of Lending for Latinos in the U.S. It reads, in part,

At 55 million, Latinos represent the nation’s largest ethnic group and the fastest growing population. However, Latinos continue to face predatory and discriminatory lending practices that strip hard-earned savings. These abusive practices limit the ability of Latino families to build wealth and contribute to the growing racial wealth gap between communities of color and whites. The Center for Responsible Lending (CRL), along with its numerous partners, has sought to eliminate predatory lending products from the marketplace. High-cost, debt trap lending products frequently target Latinos and other communities of color. (1)

No disagreement there. The fact sheet continues,

Barriers to Latino Homeownership

According to a 2015 national survey of Latino real estate agents, nearly 60 percent said that tighter mortgage credit was the No. 1 barrier to Latino homeownership; affordability ranked second.

In 2014, Latino homeownership dropped from 46.1 percent in 2013 to 45.4 percent. In 2013, Latinos were turned down for home loans at twice the rate of non-Latino White borrowers and were more than twice as likely to pay a higher price for their loans. (1)

I have a few problems with this. First, I am not sure that I would unthinkingly accept the views of real estate agents as to what ails the housing market. Real estate agents make their money by selling houses. They are less concerned with whether the sale makes sense for the buyer long-term. Second, it is unclear what the right homeownership rate is. Many people argue that higher is always better, but that kind of thinking got us into trouble in the early 2000s. Finally, stating that Latinos are rejected more frequently and pay more for their mortgages without explaining the extent to which non-discriminatory factors might be at play is just sloppy.

The fact sheet quotes CRL Executive Vice President Nikitra Bailey, “As the slow housing recovery demonstrates, there is a market imperative to ensure that Latino families have access to mortgages in both the public and private sectors of the market. The market cannot fully recover without them.” (1) But what Latino households and the housing market need is not just more credit. They need sustainable credit, mortgages that are affordable as homeowners face the expected challenges of life — unemployment, sickness, divorce. It is a shame that the CRL –usually such a thoughtful organization — did not address the bigger issues at stake.

Homeowners Keeping the Wolf at Bay

Wolf at the Door by Gidi

The Center for Responsible Lending has released a policy brief with the lengthy title, 2014 HMDA data shows that Federal rules did not have a chilling effect on lending, despite lender predictions. Borrowers of color continue to be under-served by the mortgage market. While it is not a pithy title, it does say it all. The brief opens with some finer detail:

The 2014 mortgage data submitted by lenders under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) reflects a slowly recovering mortgage market, but one that troublingly continues to under-serve important market segments. The implementation of federal mortgage underwriting standards (known as Ability-to-Repay or “ATR” and the Qualified Mortgage rule or “QM”) in early 2014 did not cause a departure from mortgage lending trends in recent years. However, access to credit remains tight; people of color and low and moderate-income families continue to receive a far lower share of home purchase loans than they have historically and than would be expected based on their share of the population. These borrowers also are much more likely to be served by government-backed loan programs than by the conventional market, and are increasingly paying more for mortgages than other borrowers. (1, footnote omitted)

The brief closes, arguing that

recent mortgage lending reforms support sustainable homeownership and wealth building opportunities for lower-wealth households. However, continued problems with access to credit stem from the constrained lending of the post crisis market. Since the crisis, mortgage lending has been mostly limited to borrowers with the most pristine credit history. This constrained lending environment is reflected in the 2014 HMDA data. This environment is most harmful to lower-wealth households as well as to borrowers of color. (5)

The missing piece in this analysis is a proposal for to how to loosen mortgage underwriting so that homeownership can be achieved by more households while also making sure that they can keep making their mortgage payments over the long term.

The key to a sustainable homeownership policy is a plan to keep the wolf at bay while households deal with the unemployment, sickness and divorce that is predictably going to affect some of them all of the time. This policy brief does not chart a path forward to that goal. There is more work to be done.

The State of Predatory Lending

By U.S. Treasury Department (CFPB Conference on the Credit Card Act, 02/22/2011) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Center for Responsible Lending has posted the final chapter of The State of Lending in America: The Cumulative Costs of Predatory Practices. This chapter’s findings include,

  • Loans with problematic terms or practices result in higher rates of default and foreclosure/ repossession. For example, dealer-brokered auto loans, which often contain abusive provisions, are twice as likely to result in repossession as bank- or credit union-financed auto loans.
  • The consequences of default, repossession, bankruptcy, and foreclosure are long-term. For example, one in seven job-seekers with blemished credit has been passed over for employment after a credit check, and borrowers who experience default pay much more for subsequent credit.
  • The opportunity costs of abusive loans are significant. For example, during the same period that subprime loans peaked and millions of families unnecessarily lost their homes, families with similar credit characteristics who sustained homeownership experienced on average an $18,000 increase in wealth per family.
  • Abusive loans have an impact on the economy as a whole. The foreclosure crisis depleted overall housing wealth and led to millions of job losses; predatory practices have been shown to diminish public trust and confidence in the financial system; and there is evidence that student debt is preventing economic growth, especially for young families.
  • Across many financial products, low-income borrowers and borrowers of color are disproportionately affected by abusive loan terms and practices. Families with annual incomes below $25,000– $35,000 are much more likely to receive an abusive loan product. And in most cases, borrowers of color are two to three times more likely to receive an abusive loan compared with a white counterpart. The discriminatory effects of abusive lending clearly contribute to the widening wealth gap between families of color and white families.
  • Loans with problematic terms are repeatedly concentrated in neighborhoods of color. Subprime mortgages and payday loans are two examples. Such concentration leads to a net drain of community wealth and value that could have been spent on productive economic activity and meeting vital community needs.
  • Debt plays a profound role in the financial lives of most American households, with about three-quarters of households having at least one form of debt and many having multiple forms of debt. Indeed, most consumers are not simply mortgage holders, credit card users, payday loan borrowers, or car-title borrowers; they are likely to participate in more than one of these markets, often at the same time.
  • Regulation and enforcement is an effective means for ending lending abuses while preserving access to credit. For example, the Credit Card Accountability and Disclosure Act of 2009 (Credit CARD Act) has continued to give people access to credit cards, while eliminating more than $4 billion in abusive fees and overall saving consumers $12.6 billion annually. (6-7)

The Center for Responsible Lending is a very effective advocate for consumer protection in the financial services industry. That being said, I found it interesting that they were very circumspect in their section on Future Areas of Regulation. (33) They referenced the existing Credit CARD Act, Dodd-Frank Act, state payday lending laws and federal payday lending regulations, but they did not identify any aspects of the consumer financial services market that need additional regulation. Hard to imagine it, but it seems that CRL believes that we have reached regulatory Nirvana, at least in theory.

CRL Issues Report on State of Lending

The Center for Responsible Lending has issued a new report, The State of Lending in America and its Impact on U.S. Households.  CRL, Cassandra-like, warned of an epidemic of millions of foreclosures at the height of the Subprime Boom, so they have a lot of street cred.  And while they are consumer advocates, their research is solid.

Their policy recommendations include “the following key principles to ensure a robust and secure secondary market:”

Government Guarantee: The U.S. government should provide an explicit, actuarially sound guarantee for mortgages in a future secondary market structure. This is an appropriate role to for the government to play in the event of a housing-market crash or market disruption. Discussion about the role of private capital in sharing losses is an important part of the conversation, but a catastrophic government guarantee is essential to the future of mortgage finance.

Duty to Serve Entire Market: Mortgage finance reform should require secondary market entities that benefit from federal guarantees to serve all qualified homeowners, rather than preferred market segments. Without a duty to serve the entire market, lenders could recreate the dual credit market that characterized lending during the subprime crisis.

Encourage Broad Market Access by All Lenders: The future mortgage finance system should encourage competition and further broad market access to the secondary capital markets for both small and large lenders. These goals should be met by establishing a cooperative secondary market model of one non-lender entity, owned in equal shares by member-users, that is able to issue guaranteed securities. Such a model of aligned interests will correct the shortcomings of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s past and also prevent a further concentrated lending marketplace in the future. (53)