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Racially "targeting" predatory subprime loans? The NAACP and Baltimore suits



Says the NAACP complaint: "In 2004, African-American homeowners who received subprime mortgage loans from Defendants were over 30% more likely to be issued a higher-rate loan than Caucasian borrowers with the same qualifications." (� 1.) Thus, it concludes, the disparity "result[s] from a systematic and predatory targeting of African-Americans." (� 6.)

Similarly, Baltimore's suit argues that Wells Fargo is more likely to foreclose in African-American neighborhoods—and that suit does not even attempt to adjust for similar qualifications or finances, just alleging racial disparity.

Of course, there is a difference between being targeted for a subprime mortgage loan and accepting a subprime mortgage loan. And I don't believe that African-American homeowners were targeted for subprime mortgage loans because they were African-American. They were targeted because they were homeowners.

Between 2001 and 2005, I was a law-firm associate, high-income, making multiples of what I make today at a thinktank. And, like I am today, I was also white. And the minute my adjustable-rate mortgage was registered in the title books in 2001, I got several solicitations a week in the mail from fly-by-night mortgage brokers offering to refinance my mortgage with ludicrous financial products. (And when I made the mistake of investigating on-line options for switching to a fixed-rate mortgage in 2004, I also got several e-mails a day and phone-calls a month on the same basis to the point that I switched e-mail providers.)

Somehow, I resisted refinancing with a mortgage that was not favorable to me in the long run—I took a 5.25% fixed-rate instead. But I sure was targeted with subprime opportunities, especially as the real-estate prices in my neighborhood skyrocketed about 10% a year. And if, with my skin-color, income, education-level, and impeccable credit-score, I was targeted, so was every homeowner and their grandmother.

To the extent a statistical study says minorities were, ceteris paribus, more likely to receive unfavorable mortgages than whites, the study reflects a specification error, perhaps in failing to account for different levels of consumer education. Another possibility: there is a lot of state-by-state regulation of the mortgage industry. Are subprime mortgages more likely in states with high minority populations, for example? Are subprime mortgage brokers more likely to be aggressive in urban areas in states on the coasts where real estate prices were increasing faster than average, and those states correspond to states with high minority populations?

Note that the CRL study that has been driving the debate and highlighted in the NAACP suit finds that for many types of loans, whites were "disadvantaged" relative to Hispanics, which would seem to count against a racial explanation (unless one believes that bankers hold a racial animus against whites and towards Hispanics) and more towards a geographic explanation.

Note also the irony that these same defendants were accused of failing to offer loans to African-Americans just a few years ago. (See also Apr. 1.)

Finally, note that the NAACP complaint is legally frivolous in at least one respect because of the lack of standing in a federal court. Domino's Pizza, Inc. v. McDonald, 546 U.S. 470 (2006) (no � 1981 standing for third parties). (Baltimore brings no � 1981 claim.) Fair Housing Act standing is questionable, too, given the lack of allegation of injury to NAACP in particular, though that could be fairly easily rectified by an amended complaint, especially in the Ninth Circuit. Cf. Spann v. Colonial Vill., Inc., 899 F.2d 24 (D.C. Cir. 1990) ("[a]n organization cannot, of course, manufacture the injury necessary to maintain a suit from its expenditure of resources on that very suit") (R. Bader Ginsburg, J.); Fair Housing of Marin v. Combs, 285 F.3d 899, 902 (9th Cir. 2002). N.B. that there is an amended version of the complaint that may already fix these issues. NAACP v. Ameriquest Mortgage Co., No. 8:07-cv-00794-AG-AN (C.D. Cal.). For some reason, this is not available on PACER, so I haven't seen it.

Related: Jan. 8 (Krauss on Baltimore suit); Apr. 25 (me on third-party liability for subprime lending).

(Disclosure: I own less than $15,000 in stock in Citigroup, one of the defendants in the case.)

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Isaac Gorodetski
Project Manager,
Center for Legal Policy at the
Manhattan Institute
igorodetski@manhattan-institute.org

Katherine Lazarski
Press Officer,
Manhattan Institute
klazarski@manhattan-institute.org

 

Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.