HUD Settles with North Carolina Commercial Lender Over Alleged Fair Lending Violations

On June 8, HUD announced a conciliation agreement with a North Carolina-chartered commercial lender to resolve allegations that, as the successor of a merger with a South Carolina-based bank, it denied mortgage loans to African American, Latino, and Asian American applicants at a disproportionately higher rate than white applicants in violation of Section 804(b) and 805 of the Federal Fair Housing Act. After conducting an analysis of mortgage loans originated by the South Carolina bank between 2010 and 2011, the Department found that the bank demonstrated preferential treatment of white mortgage loan applicants through the retail channel via manual override of its automated underwriting system. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the commercial lender, having cooperated with HUD’s investigation, must among other things, (i) provide nonprofit organizations with $140,000 to use toward credit and housing counseling, financial literacy training, and related programs for first-time homebuyers in South Carolina; (ii) spend an aggregate amount of $20,000 on positive marketing, advertising, and outreach to residents in majority-minority census tracts in South Carolina; (iii) partner with a non-profit organization or community groups involved in financial education to conduct, at a minimum, 24 financial education programs in South Carolina for individuals and small business owners; (iv) hire three mortgage banker market specialists to “focus on diverse lending in Charleston-North Charleston-Summerville, Columbia, and Greenville-Anderson-Mauldin metro areas”; (v) require fair housing training for all employees and agents substantially involved in manual underwriting of mortgages; and (vi) implement “a new standardized and objective set of guidelines for a second review of retail channel residential loan applications initially denied by the automated underwriting system.”

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AG Schneiderman Announces Settlement with Real Estate Brokerages for Alleged Housing Discrimination Based on Income Source

On May 23, New York AG Eric Schneiderman announced that his office reached settlements with three real estate brokerages operating in New York City, Nassau County, and Westchester County. According to the AG’s press release, the three firms unlawfully discriminated against potential housing applicants with Section 8 vouchers, which provide rental assistance and a home ownership option to low income households in New York State. During the AG’s investigation, undercover phone testers posing as prospective tenants with Section 8 vouchers were allegedly told by one firm that they would be placed on a months-long waitlist for the apartment in question; in contrast, testers who did not mention the vouchers were told that the units were immediately available. That firm’s manager allegedly testified, in substance, that “a waitlist was essentially used to reject unwanted prospective tenants.” Similarly, the other two firms allegedly “told undercover testers that Section 8 and other government assistance programs would not be accepted at certain properties.” The press release also emphasized that one firm failed to follow its written policy prohibiting income-source discrimination, and another firm did not have a written fair-housing compliance policy at all. Under the settlement agreements, the brokerages must: (i) forward any complaints and documentation regarding housing discrimination to the AG; (ii) develop new non-discriminatory policies; (iii) maintain rental information about certain properties and provide such information to the AG for compliance review; and (iv) pay fines ranging from $13,000 to $40,000. Two of the firms must also have their employees attend training on fair housing.

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HUD Issues Guidance Regarding the Application of Fair Housing Act Standards to the Use of Criminal Records

On April 4, HUD issued guidance deploying a disparate impact analysis with respect to the Fair Housing Act’s application to the use of criminal history by those who come under the Fair Housing Act, and in particular by providers or operators of housing and real-estate related transactions. The guidance indicates that, because African Americans and Hispanics are arrested, convicted and incarcerated at rates disproportionate to their share of the general population, criminal records-based barriers to housing are likely to have a disproportionate impact on minority home seekers. HUD then walks through the three step burden-shifting disparate impact analysis to support its argument. To determine whether the use of criminal history has, on its face, a discriminatory effect, HUD looks at national statistics to demonstrate that incarceration rates are disproportionate for African Americans and Hispanics. HUD also notes that, while state or local statistics should be presented when available, national statistics may be used where state or local statistics are not readily available and there is no reason to believe they would differ markedly from the national statistics. Read more…

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HUD Reaches $2.8 Million Settlement Over Redlining Allegations

On February 29, HUD announced an agreement with a Kansas City-based bank over its alleged redlining practices against African-American mortgage applicants. Two fair housing organizations (Complainants) filed separate complaints with HUD in October 2015 alleging that the bank engaged in discriminatory acts and violated the Fair Housing Act. According to Complainants, the bank’s “lack of market penetration in African-American communities made residential real estate products less available to persons based on race.” Complainants further alleged that the bank “designated their service area, or assessment area, in a way that excluded areas of high African-American concentration, which resulted in making residential real estate products less available to persons based on race” – a practice generally referred to as redlining. The agreement requires that the bank must, during the three-year agreement period: (i) allocate $75,000 in subsidy funds to provide discounts on home purchase loans to majority African-American census tracts in the Kansas City area; and (ii) originate $2.5 million in mortgage loans in African-American neighborhoods. Read more…

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District Court Applies Supreme Court’s Inclusive Communities Decision in Rejecting Disparate Impact Claim

On July 17, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California granted summary judgment for Wells Fargo in a Fair Housing Act (FHA) case brought by the City of Los Angeles. City of Los Angeles v. Wells Fargo & Co., No. 2:13-cv-09007-ODW (RZx) (C.D. Cal. July 17, 2015). The City alleged that the bank engaged in mortgage lending practices that had a disparate impact on minority borrowers. In rejecting the City’s claims, the court’s opinion heavily relied on the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., which imposed limitations on the disparate impact theory of liability under the FHA, despite holding that the theory remains cognizable. 135 S. Ct. 2507 (2015). Citing Inclusive Communities, the district court warned that disparate impact claims may only seek to “remove policies that are artificial, arbitrary, and unnecessary barriers and not valid governmental and private priorities.” The court further held that the City failed to point to a specific defendant policy that caused the disparate impact and failed to show “robust causality” between any of defendant’s policies and the alleged statistical disparity, as Inclusive Communities requires. The court also rejected the notion that disparate impact claims could be used to impose new policies on lenders, and said that the City’s argument that lenders should adopt policies to avoid disproportionate lending was a “roundabout way of arguing for a racial quota,” which Inclusive Communities also warns against. Finally, the court was sharply critical of the City’s argument that Federal Housing Administration loans are harmful to minority borrowers, and that, in any event, any disparate impact from these loans would be a result of the federal government’s policies, not the defendant’s policies.

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