NAACP Says Bank Giants Steered Blacks to Bad Loans

Jesse Washington, AP, March 13, 2009

The NAACP is accusing Wells Fargo and HSBC of forcing blacks into subprime mortgages while whites with identical qualifications got lower rates.

Class-action lawsuits were to be filed against the banks Friday in federal court in Los Angeles, Austin Tighe, co-lead counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, told The Associated Press.

Black homebuyers have been 3 1/2 times more likely to receive a subprime loan than white borrowers, and six times more likely to get a subprime rate when refinancing, Tighe said. Blacks still were disproportionately steered into subprime loans when their credit scores, income and down payment were equal to those of white homebuyers, he said.

Melissa Murray, vice president of corporate communications for Wells Fargo & Co., called the lawsuit “totally unfounded and reckless.” The bank is receiving federal bailout funds.

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“This is systematic, institutionalized racism,” Tighe said. “Once you take out factors relative to income and credit risk, the only difference between the borrowers is the color of their skin.”

Tighe estimated that “tens of thousands” of blacks had been forced into bad loans, but said it was difficult to gauge the scope of the problem because banks keep much of their internal data private. The lawsuits could force banks to divulge closely guarded information, such as how banks can determine the race of a loan applicant and how federal bailout funds are being spent.

The NAACP is seeking reforms from the banks such as increased transparency in the loan process, educational outreach and internal training.

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