Moody's, Fitch Targets of Housing Discrimination Complaint
The National Community Reinvestment Coalition, a consumer-advocacy group, said late Tuesday that it had filed a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development's Office of Fair Housing & Equal Opportunity against two of the nation’s leading credit rating agencies. The complaint seeks to obtain relief for consumers and communities the NCRC claims were harmed by allegedly "discriminatory, negligent, and culpable behavior that contributed to crises in the mortgage and credit markets" at Moody's Investors Service and Fitch Ratings. The group alleges in its complaint that "the rating agencies substantially contributed to the housing and foreclosure crisis in African-American and Latino communities by making public misrepresentations about the soundness and reliability of subprime securities’ ratings." The two company's ratings fueled the imprudent lending and secondary market funding activity that led to a historic surge in foreclosures, according to the NCRC, which claims that the ratings actions represent a violation of the terms of the Federal Fair Housing Act. The complaint is not a legal action, but NCRC officials said they are considering filing formal civil legal action against the two rating agencies if HUD doesn't adequately address their concerns. HUD officials had not commented on the complaint by the time this story was published. “The complaint alleges that Moody’s and Fitch issued false and inflated ratings for securities backed by problematic high-cost loans. Reckless and irresponsible lending has restricted housing opportunity for countless African-American and Latino families who have already lost their home or are now in jeopardy of foreclosure,” said John Taylor, president and chief executive officer of NCRC. “The Emperor had no clothes, and yet the rating agencies continued to say he was dressed in his Sunday’s finest.” But not all rating agencies are suspect under the NCRC's selective complaint to HUD -- noticeably absent is Standard & Poor's, which along with Moody's sat in the driver's seat for many of the subprime mortgage securities at the center of the complaint. In fact, Fitch was often a third fiddle to the ratings provided by the other two ratings agencies, industry sources have told HousingWire. "We directly requested to meet with each of the rating agencies to discuss our concerns when we filed a SEC letter/complaint earlier this year," said David Berenbaum, executive vice president of the NCRC. "S&P met with John Taylor and I, and our discussions continue. However, NCRC, depending on the outcome of these ongoing discussions, may file a complaint in the future." Write to Paul Jackson at email@example.com.