WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats are urging regulators to investigate potential discrimination in how financial institutions handle and market foreclosed homes.
Fifteen lawmakers, including several members of the Banking Committee, wrote to top agency officials Tuesday about findings disclosed in a report released last summer by the National Fair Housing Alliance, which found racial disparities in the treatment of more than 2,400 real estate owned properties across the country. The housing group has warned for years that managing REO properties could present major challenges for the industry, citing concerns about possible disparate treatment across communities.
"The same communities who were victimized by predatory mortgage lending practices may now be facing additional burdens from unequal and inadequate management of foreclosed homes," the lawmakers said in the letter.
The NFHA report found that bank-owned properties in minority neighborhoods were more than twice as likely to have trash on the grounds and broken or unsecured doors than properties in white communities. In certain regions — including Memphis, Tenn., and Hampton Roads, Va. — the recorded disparities were considerably higher.
"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," Democrats added. "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."
They noted that different treatment of REO houses based on racial composition of the surrounding neighborhoods violates the Fair Housing Act.
"The findings of NFHA's report are troubling at best, and at worst, indicate illegal discrimination that must be remedied," the lawmakers said, asking regulators to study the matter.
The letter was addressed to Julian Castro, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Janet Yellen, chair of the Federal Reserve Board, Thomas Curry, comptroller of the currency, Martin Gruenberg, chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Mel Watt, director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, and Debbie Matz, chair of the National Credit Union Administration.