Aaron Glantz and Emmanuel Martinez, Reveal, February 15, 2018
Fifty years after the federal Fair Housing Act banned racial discrimination in lending, African Americans and Latinos continue to be routinely denied conventional mortgage loans at rates far higher than their white counterparts.
This modern-day redlining persisted in 61 metro areas even when controlling for applicants’ income, loan amount and neighborhood, according to a mountain of Home Mortgage Disclosure Act records analyzed by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting.
The yearlong analysis, based on 31 million records, relied on techniques used by leading academics, the Federal Reserve and Department of Justice to identify lending disparities.
It found a pattern of troubling denials for people of color across the country, including in major metropolitan areas such as Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia, St. Louis and San Antonio. African Americans faced the most resistance in Southern cities – Mobile, Alabama; Greenville, North Carolina; and Gainesville, Florida – and Latinos in Iowa City, Iowa.
No matter their location, loan applicants told similar stories, describing an uphill battle with loan officers who they said seemed to be fishing for a reason to say no.
The analysis – independently reviewed and confirmed by The Associated Press – showed black applicants were turned away at significantly higher rates than whites in 48 cities, Latinos in 25, Asians in nine and Native Americans in three. In Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital, Reveal found all four groups were significantly more likely to be denied a home loan than whites.
Since [Thomas] Curry departed nine months ago, the Trump administration has gone the other way, weakening the standards banks must meet to pass a Community Reinvestment Act exam. During President Donald Trump’s first year in office, the Justice Department did not sue a single lender for racial discrimination.
The disproportionate denials and limited anti-discrimination enforcement help explain why the homeownership gap between whites and African Americans, which had been shrinking since the 1970s, has exploded since the housing bust. It is now wider than it was during the Jim Crow era.
The latest figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show the median net worth for an African American family is $9,000, compared with $132,000 for a white family. Latino families did not fare much better at $12,000.
Lenders and their trade organizations do not dispute the fact that they turn away people of color at rates far greater than whites. But they maintain that the disparity can be explained by factors the industry has fought to keep hidden, including the prospective borrowers’ credit history and overall debt-to-income ratio. They singled out the three-digit credit score – which banks use to determine whether a borrower is likely to repay a loan – as especially important in lending decisions.
The American Bankers Association said the lack of federal enforcement proves discrimination is not rampant, and individual lenders told Reveal that they had hired outside auditing firms, which found they treated loan applicants fairly regardless of race.
New Jersey-based TD Bank, which denied a higher proportion of black and Latino applicants than any other major lender, said it “makes credit decisions based on each customer’s credit profile, not on factors such as race or ethnicity.”
Reveal’s analysis included all records publicly available under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, covering nearly every time an American tried to buy a home with a conventional mortgage in 2015 and 2016. It controlled for nine economic and social factors, including an applicant’s income, the amount of the loan, the ratio of the size of the loan to the applicant’s income and the type of lender, as well as the racial makeup and median income of the neighborhood where the person wanted to buy property.
Credit score was not included because that information is not publicly available. That’s because lenders have deflected attempts to force them to report that data to the government, arguing it would not be useful in identifying discrimination.
At the same time, studies have found proprietary credit score algorithms to have a discriminatory impact on borrowers of color.
The “decades-old credit scoring model” currently used “does not take into account consumer data on rent, utility, and cell phone bill payments,” Republican Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina wrote in August, when he unveiled a bill to require the federal government to vet credit standards used for residential mortgages. “This exclusion disproportionately hurts African-Americans, Latinos, and young people who are otherwise creditworthy.”
Philadelphia was one of the largest cities in America where African Americans were disproportionately turned away when they tried to buy a home. About the same number of African Americans and non-Hispanic whites live in the City of Brotherly Love, but the data showed whites received 10 times as many conventional mortgage loans in 2015 and 2016.
Banks also focused on serving the white parts of town, placing nearly three-quarters of their branches in white-majority neighborhoods. Reveal’s analysis also showed that the greater the number of African Americans or Latinos in a neighborhood, the more likely a loan application would be denied there – even after accounting for income and other factors.
“It’s one thing after another. It’s like pulling layers off an onion,” said Arlene Wayns-Thomas, president of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers, which represents African American real estate professionals.
Wayns-Thomas, who has been selling real estate for 30 years, said her black clients are treated differently by lenders.
“They may not like what happened between the last time you were working on this particular job to this one. They may see there was a gap,” she said. “I have seen situations where they’ve asked people for the children’s birth records.”
“The things that happen behind the scenes is what’s disturbing,” she said.
Reveal’s analysis of lending data shows that nationally, Santander turned away African American homebuyers at nearly three times the rate of white ones. The company did not address that disparity in its statement but said it was more likely to grant a loan application from an African American borrower than five of its competitors.
Lending patterns in Philadelphia today resemble redlining maps drawn across the country by government officials in the 1930s, when lending discrimination was legal.
This practice has been outlawed for half a century. And for the last 40 years, banks have had a legal obligation under the Community Reinvestment Act to solicit clients – borrowers and depositors – from all segments of their communities.
But in many places, the law hasn’t made much difference. When you combine home purchase loans, refinancing and home equity lines of credit, banks were more likely to deny a conventional loan application than grant it in more than 40 percent of Philadelphia. People of color were the majority in nearly all those neighborhoods.
In Nicetown, a North Philadelphia neighborhood that was redlined in the 1930s, banks and mortgage brokers largely stay away. Lenders have been particularly stingy when it comes to home improvement loans. Credit: Sarah Blesener for Reveal
Nicetown is among the neighborhoods redlined in the 1930s. In his assessment, government surveyor W.R. Hutzel said the hazardous neighborhood had some positives, including “new industry – good transportation” and a high school. On the other hand, he wrote, it had a “heavy concentration of negro.”
Today, the economic recovery largely has bypassed Nicetown. Blight is a major concern. Some of the vacant homes, empty for years, have attracted squatters. Although it’s just a few blocks from Temple University Hospital, banks and mortgage brokers largely stay away. Lenders have been particularly stingy when it comes to home improvement loans. From 2012 to 2016, they made 67 home improvement loans here and denied 315.
It’s not only historically redlined areas that suffer from a lack of credit. Some neighborhoods that were predominantly African American decades ago have since gentrified and are now majority white. Today, they benefit from a large number of home mortgages from banks.
Other neighborhoods that experienced white flight after World War II have become home to a substantial black middle class. And in those neighborhoods, banks are more likely to turn away borrowers.