By Leslie Proll, Director of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund’s Washington Office
The current foreclosure crisis constitutes a monumental civil rights issue. Communities of color were targeted for risky mortgage loans, have experienced disproportionately high foreclosure rates, and have been stripped of vast amounts of wealth because of discriminatory lending practices. From 2005 to 2009, median wealth fell by 66 percent among Latino households and 53 percent among African-American households, compared with just 16 percent among white households, largely due to declining home values. From 2009 through 2012, African Americans are projected to lose an estimated $194 billion in housing equity, and Latinos are expected to lose $177 billion.
Unfortunately, there is reason to believe that the destructive effects of the foreclosure crisis on communities of color have yet to be fully realized. They face another devastating blow caused by further discriminatory treatment towards homes and neighborhoods by the very lenders who initiated the foreclosures.
The civil rights problems that permeate the foreclosure crisis are unfolding in stages. First, lenders targeted communities of color with subprime and other risky loan products that led to foreclosure. Last year, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the largest residential fair lending settlement in history, in which Bank of America agreed to pay $335 million to settle allegations that Countrywide Financial discriminated against African-American and Latino borrowers during the housing boom. DOJ found that Countrywide loan officers and brokers charged higher fees and interest rates to 200,000 African-American and Latino borrowers than to white borrowers who posed the same credit risk. Countrywide also steered borrowers of color into costly subprime mortgages when white borrowers with similar credit profiles received prime loans. Countrywide was not an isolated example. Other research has found that African-American and Latino borrowers were much more likely to receive subprime loans than white borrowers, even after controlling for income level or credit risk.