A group of some of the most outspoken Democrats in U.S. Senate is calling for an investigation into alleged neglect of foreclosed homes in minority communities.
In a letter sent to the heads of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and National Credit Union Administration, the senators request an investigation into claims that bank-owned homes in white neighborhoods are treated far better than homes in minority neighborhoods.
The letter (which can be read in full here) cites an August 2014 report from the National Fair Housing Alliance that found that bank-owned properties in communities of color were much more likely to have a higher number of maintenance and marketing deficiencies, leading to "destabilizing outcomes for families and neighborhoods."
Critics often claim the NFHA reports contain info that is "false for many of the homes," one housing advocate source tells HousingWire.
The NFHA report (which can be read in full here) detailed findings from inspections of more than 2,400 REO properties in 29 metropolitan areas, owned or managed by 11 different lenders, the Federal Housing Administration, or the government-sponsored enterprises. The report also found that properties in minority neighborhoods were “2.2 times more likely to have significant amounts of trash and debris on the premises and 2.3 times more likely to have unsecured, broken, or damaged doors than properties in comparable predominantly white communities.”
The senators write that some cities had more pronounced disparities than others. In Memphis, Tennessee, for example, REO properties in communities of color were almost 9 times more likely to have significant amounts of trash and debris than REOs in majority-white communities, the senators write, citing the NFHA report.
Additionally, the senators cite Hampton Roads, Virginia, where REO properties in neighborhoods of color were 6 times more likely to have unsecured, damaged, or boarded doors than properties in comparable predominantly white communities.
“These statistics provide a mere snapshot of the far-reaching and serious consequences facing communities with high volumes of REO properties that receive inadequate attention from the banks and lenders responsible for their maintenance,” the senators write.
“As you are well aware, the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s regulations implementing the Fair Housing Act make clear that the differential treatment of REO properties based on the racial makeup of a community or neighborhood is a violation of the Fair Housing Act,” the senators continue. “The findings of NFHA’s report are troubling at best, and at worst, indicate illegal discrimination that must be remedied.”
The letter is signed by Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio); Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.); Barbara Boxer (D- Calif.); Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.); Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii); Cory Booker (D-N.J.); Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.); Ben Cardin (D-Md.); Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.); Dick Durbin (D-Ill.); Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.); Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.); and Tim Kaine (D-Va.).
In the letter, the senators urge HUD Secretary Julián Castro, Fed Chair Janet Yellen, CFPB Director Richard Cordray, FHFA Director Mel Watt, OCC Comptroller Thomas Curry, FDIC Chair Martin Gruenberg, and NCUA Chair Debbie Matz to investigate the NFHA’s claims and take action to remedy the issues the NFHA found.
“We strongly urge you—as regulators of the entities responsible for ensuring these properties are maintained, marketed, and sold to qualified buyers—to investigate this issue,” the senators write. “We also urge you to take appropriate actions to remedy these problems and ensure they do not happen again in the future, including consulting with fair housing advocates and representatives of the affected communities to identify additional regulatory, supervisory, or enforcement steps that might be needed to cure existing disparities and prevent future deficiencies.”
According to Sen. Menedez’s office, the following organizations have come out in support of the senators’ letter: The American Civil Liberties Union; Americans for Financial Reform; Center for Responsible Lending; Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under Law; Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development; National Council of La Raza ; National Fair Housing Alliance; National Low Income Housing Coalition; PolicyLink; and Poverty & Race Research Action Council.
“Residents and communities across the country look to your agencies for assurances that mortgage lenders and servicers will act equitably in the disposition of REO homes, not improperly concentrating resources in some communities while withholding funds from others,” the senators write. “As we are sure you agree, stabilization for our country’s communities most impacted by the foreclosure crisis will require financial institutions to properly maintain and market REO homes regardless of the color of the skin or nation of origin of the other homeowners who live on the block.”