Banks v. Cities

The Supreme Court issued a decision in Bank of America Corp. v. Miami, 581 U.S. __ (2017). The decision was a mixed result for the parties.  On the one hand, the Court ruled that a municipality could sue financial institutions for violations of the Fair Housing Act arising from predatory lending. Miami alleged that the banks’ predatory lending led to a disproportionate increase in foreclosures and vacancies which decreased property tax revenues and increased the demand for municipal services. On the other hand, the Court held that Miami had not shown that the banks’ actions were directly related to injuries asserted by Miami. As a result, the Court remanded the case to the Eleventh Circuit to determine whether that in fact was the case. This case could have big consequences for how lenders and others and other big players in the housing industry develop their business plans.

For the purposes of this post, I want to focus on the banks’ activities of the banks that Miami alleged they engaged in during the early 2000s. It is important to remember the kinds of problems that communities faced before the financial crisis and before the Dodd-Frank Act authorized the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. As President Trump and Chairman Hensarling (R-TX) of the House Financial Services Committee continue their assault on consumer protection regulation, we should understand the Wild West environment that preceded our current regulatory environment. Miami’s complaints charge that

the Banks discriminatorily imposed more onerous, and indeed “predatory,” conditions on loans made to minority borrowers than to similarly situated nonminority borrowers. Those “predatory” practices included, among others, excessively high interest rates, unjustified fees, teaser low-rate loans that overstated refinancing opportunities, large prepayment penalties, and—when default loomed—unjustified refusals to refinance or modify the loans. Due to the discriminatory nature of the Banks’ practices, default and foreclosure rates among minority borrowers were higher than among otherwise similar white borrowers and were concentrated in minority neighborhoods. Higher foreclosure rates lowered property values and diminished property-tax revenue. Higher foreclosure rates—especially when accompanied by vacancies—also increased demand for municipal services, such as police, fire, and building and code enforcement services, all needed “to remedy blight and unsafe and dangerous conditions” that the foreclosures and vacancies generate. The complaints describe statistical analyses that trace the City’s financial losses to the Banks’ discriminatory practices. (3-4, citations omitted)

Excessively high interest rates, unjustified fees, teaser interest rates and large prepayment penalties were all hallmarks of the subprime mortgage market in the early 2000s. The Supreme Court has ruled that such activities may arise to violations of the Fair Housing Act when they are targeted at minority communities.

Dodd-Frank has barred many such loan terms from a large swath of the mortgage market through its Qualified Mortgage and Ability-to-Repay rules. Trump and Hensarling want to bring those loan terms back to the mortgage market in the name of lifting regulatory burdens from financial institutions.

What’s worse, the  burden of regulation on the banks or the burden of predatory lending on the borrowers? I’d go with the latter.

Reiss on BK Live!

The BK Live segment on Mortgage Inequities in Brooklyn has been posted to the web. Mark Winston Griffith (Brooklyn Movement Center Executive Director), Alexis Iwaniszie (New Economy Project) and I discuss mortgage inequities and how they effect Brooklyn (and beyond). gets a nice shout out from BK Live.

Reiss on Mortgage Inequities

I will be appearing on a segment on BK Live on BRIC , the Brooklyn Public Network, about “Mortgage Inequities/Fair Housing in Brooklyn” on Thursday, February 13th at noon (running again at 2pm, 8pm, 9pm and 10pm (Cablevision Ch 69, Time Warner 56, RCN Ch 84, Verizon Ch 44 or online at:

I will be appearing with Mark Winston Griffith, Executive Director of the Brooklyn Movement Center, a community organizing group based in Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights, and Alexis Iwanisziw of the New Economy Project.

We will be discussing The New Economy Project’s recent study about inequities in mortgage lending based on race in NYC:

Mortgage lenders made markedly fewer conventional home mortgage loans in communities of color than in predominately white neighborhoods in New York City, according to a series of GIS maps published today.

The maps show unequal lending patterns based on the racial composition of communities in New York City, controlling for the number of owner-occupied units in each neighborhood. New Yorkers who live in predominantly white neighborhoods on average receive twice as many conventional home purchase loans as New Yorkers who live in predominantly black or Latino neighborhoods, for every 100 owner-occupied housing units in the neighborhood.

“The maps show that banks continue to redline communities of color across New York City,” said Monica M. Garcia, Community Education Coordinator at New Economy Project, which produced the maps. “For decades, banks have excluded neighborhoods of color from fair access to mortgage financing, allowing predatory lenders to flourish right up to the financial crisis. Now it’s déjà vu all over again, with banks failing adequately to provide conventional mortgages to people in predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods.”

“The maps highlight the profound and continued need for strong government action against banks that violate fair housing and fair lending laws,” said Sarah Ludwig, Co-Director of New Economy Project.

The series includes a map of New York City and borough-level maps of Brooklyn, Queens and Bronx.

To produce the maps, New Economy Project analyzed home mortgage lending data for 2012, the most recent year for which the data are publicly available. New Economy Project received partial funding to produce the maps from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Fair Housing Initiatives Program.