California Reinvestment Coalition Goes to Washington

Last week, members of the California Reinvestment Coalition traveled to Washington, DC, for the annual National Community Reinvestment Coalition conference.  The theme this year was “Creating a Just Economy.”

Keynote speakers during the conference included Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, CFPB Director Richard Cordray, Representative Maxine Waters who is Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Committee, Comptroller Thomas Curry, Senator Sherrod Brown who is Ranking Member of the Senate Banking Committee, Mark Morial, CEO of the National Urban League, and John Taylor, president and CEO of NCRC.

There were a number of sessions focused on reinvestment, affordable housing, small business lending, home ownership, gentrification, economic development, CDFIs, community health benefit agreements, fintech, rural development, fair housing, the racial wealth gap, the Community Reinvestment Act, redlining, and more, including a session entitled “Defending the CFPB” that Paulina Gonzalez, executive director of CRC, moderated.

In addition to attending the conference, CRC members also met with members of the California Congressional delegation and with bank regulators and their staff as well.  During the meetings, CRC members shared what they are seeing from their work in communities, specifically around issues related to small business lending, affordable housing and economic development.

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The president’s so-called “skinny budget” proposal was one of several topics covered at the meetings, and more background about the additional issues is included below.

Program/Department

Budget Proposal Impact on California

HUD Budget 

Eliminates CDBG, reductions for key programs serving renters Loss of $357 million in CDBG funds for CA cities;

$130 million in HOME funds for new affordable housing; Thousands of tenants to lose rental assistance vouchers;

More costs for Medicaid as seniors move to nursing homes w/o Meals on Wheels;

Increased homelessness;

CDFI Fund

Eliminated

Fewer loans, less support for Small Biz Owners. There are 86 CDFIs in CA that made 39,000+ loans in FY 2016.

Legal Services Corporation

Eliminated

11 CA orgs. receive funding through LSC.

Small Business Administration

Prime program defunded; Microloan program frozen Less financing available for CA small businesses.

NeighborWorks

Eliminated

Will harm efforts at building assets, including for 1st time homebuyers, also negative impacts for affordable housing.
AmeriCorps Eliminated

Work on tax returns, literacy, emergency response, health, and economic development.

 

Community Reinvestment Act

This year, CRA celebrates its 40th anniversary. Because of the CRA, financial institutions are helping to meet important community credit needs and building consumer and community wealth, through small business lending, mortgage lending, affordable housing finance, community development activity and bank branch and account access.

  • California Reinvestment Coalition members and other community groups have recently negotiated win-win community commitments with a number of banks, including City National, Bank of Hope, Cathay Bank and Mechanics Bank.
  • But bank regulators need to be more rigorous and timely in their CRA and Fair Lending examinations of banks. Wells Fargo had not had a CRA rating made public in 9 years, and several banks, such as BancorpSouth and Evans Bank that received Satisfactory CRA ratings were later sued for redlining.
  • Regulators should encourage banks to develop Community Benefit Plan agreements with local community groups, and incorporate these agreements into any bank merger approval and subsequent CRA exams.
  • Regulators should also provide CRA downgrades to institutions that engage in discriminatory, unfair, or deceptive practices, or that finance the direct or indirect displacement of low and moderate income people and communities of color, or that finance lenders who make predatory loans in these communities. Banks must diversify management and staff, and develop robust supplier diversity programs.


Rural Communities

Rural communities in California face unique and significant challenges. Banks are well placed to help local communities develop and grow through home mortgage and small business lending, affordable housing investments and low cost accounts.

  • But nonprofit groups and even some banks report that banks only lend and invest in geographic areas that are subject to “full scope” regulatory review (via CRA exams),  that tend to focus on larger, urban areas, especially for the largest banks.
  • Bank regulators should expand the number of full scope areas for banks that are among the biggest depositories and lenders in smaller, rural communities. Branch closings, especially in rural areas, are also effectively limiting access to banking for consumers.

Protect CFPB

The Dodd Frank Act and the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are the most effective and publicly popular responses to the financial crisis.

  • The CFPB has secured over $12 billion in consumer relief, more than all of the other, relevant federal agencies combined.
  • The CFPB developed common sense rules that brought order and transparency to mortgages (Qualified Mortgage and QRM rules, home loan modifications (servicing rules, including successors in interest protections), and the collection of home loan data (HMDA rule).
  • Additionally, CFPB enforcement actions have protected consumers and communities from unlawful lending discrimination and unfair and deceptive practices.
  • Importantly, over 1 million consumers (including over 118,000 Californians) have already taken advantage of the CFPB’s user-friendly consumer complaint database to file complaints -some telling their stories – to seek relief but also to inform other consumers and CFPB enforcement officers about problematic practices and actors.
  • The CFPB’s Director, structure and authority must be vigorously protected.
  • Important CFPB rules on payday lending, prepaid cards, mandatory arbitration, debt collection and small business loan data must be finalized and protected from repeal.
  • We also support the CFPB’s work on issues that have important impacts on consumers, ranging from student loans to credit reporting agencies to financing for cars.

Small Business Lending

  • Small business lending has increased since Dodd Frank Act, not decreased as some Dodd Frank critics have suggested. But small business loans are still less available in LMI neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color
  • And many small business owners looking for credit from banks are relegated to higher cost and variable rate credit cards, not term loans.
  • 95% of the small business loans in CA from JPMorgan Chase Bank are credit card loans. While credit cards serve a purpose, they can come with higher costs, variable rates and are not well suited for the longer term capital needs that many businesses have.
  • Dodd Frank Section 1071 data would bring much needed transparency into who is receiving small business loans- and who is not. In the same way that HMDA data created greater transparency in the home lending market, 1071 small business data will shed light on small business lending trends, highlight disparities, and likely lead to increased lending.
  • Fintech, online, and marketplace lenders can present opportunity, but some are clearly also creating harm. CDFIs and community lenders are spending precious capital and staff time refinancing small business owners out of predatory fintech loans and merchant cash advances.
  • An Opportunity Fund analysis of 150 “alternative loans” found an average APR of 94%, and among Hispanic borrowers, the average monthly payment was more than 400% of take-home pay.
  • Advocates are concerned about a weakening of consumer protection under any OCC national fintech charter which will lead to preemption of state laws, and are concerned that the OCC has not shown itself to be a strong bank regulator (see, Wells Fargo).
  • We join Congressman Cleaver in raising concerns that fintech lenders are violating fair lending laws by not making good credit available to neighborhoods of color, that fintech algorithms may be biased, and that predatory fintech loans are destabilizing small business owned by women and people of color. The CFPB and other agencies must vigorously enforce fair lending laws against predatory and discriminatory fintech lenders. Bank partnerships with fintech lenders must be thoroughly scrutinized to ensure fair lending and consumer protection laws are followed
  • In addition to bank and fintech loans, small businesses are vulnerable to high cost products like Merchant Cash Advance and installment loans that can financially sink business owners instead of helping them.

Homeownership

Home loans are hard to come by in neighborhoods of color. Banks are increasingly focused on making jumbo loans which disproportionately benefit white borrowers, while making fewer loans to Latino and African American borrowers, and abandoning FHA loans in favor of their own, unproven products, with less than impressive results.

  • Any future GSE reform must maintain a duty to serve communities and retain affordable housing goals. Currently, Fannie and Freddie need to be held accountable to meeting ambitious affordable housing goals, and should offer more flexible products to qualified homeowners.
  • We are concerned about a return to redlining, and hope to see DOJ, CFPB and HUD continue their important work in enforcing fair housing and fair lending laws.
  • HUD is currently investigating CRC’s first HUD redlining complaint (more information and graphs below), filed against OneWest Bank for having few branches and making few home loans in neighborhoods of color in six Southern California counties.
  • Given our aging population, increased oversight is needed in the reverse mortgage market to ensure that seniors are not taken advantage of by loan originators and servicers.
  • CRC is deeply concerned that seniors are continuing to lose their homes unnecessarily due to servicer bureaucracy, a lack of strong oversight of this industry by HUD, and a very limited infrastructure to help seniors and their families avoid needless foreclosures.  The elimination of funding for Legal Aid organizations will exacerbate this problem.

Affordable Rental Housing

California continues to suffer from an affordable housing crisis. The California Housing Partnership Corporation estimates that California needs 1.5 million affordable homes to accommodate the state’s lowest income residents.

  • Any HUD budgets cuts to key programs such as HOME, CDBG, Rental Assistance and Low Income Housing Tax Credits, could be devastating.
  • California nonprofit housing developers report that many investors, including banks subject to the Community Reinvestment Act, are pulling back from existing commitments in tax credit deals and attempting to renegotiate terms in light of pending tax reform. The result is fewer units produced and more subsidy coughed up at the 11th hour by desperate nonprofits who then must forego developer fees, and local governments which must contribute additional, unplanned subsidies.
  • Banks should receive CRA rating downgrades for such behavior as well as for seeking community development lending credit for loans that foreseeably lead to displacement of low and moderate income residents the CRA was meant to benefit.
  • CRC is deeply concerned about Fannie Mae’s recent commitment to guarantee up to $1 billion in debt backed by single family rental homes owned by private equity giant Blackstone.
  • Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac must continue to invest in the National Housing Trust Fund and Capital Magnet Fund.
  • Importantly, HUD must continue to implement Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing obligations and assist local jurisdictions in meeting critical housing needs, fighting displacement and creating access to areas of opportunity for all.

Immigrant Access

The current political environment, with its changing policies and harsh rhetoric is threatening to drive immigrant communities out of the country, or out of sight. A recent CRC survey of confirms that many of our organizational members are seeing clients go underground, fail to show up for jobs, and forego access to needed services because they are concerned about ICE.

  • Bank regulators and banks should work together to clarify and simplify the privacy data rights of immigrants so they will not fear that banks will share their private data with the government.
  • Banks should also be encouraged to lend directly to qualified immigrant homeowners and small business owners who may have ITIN numbers, as well as invest in CDFIs and community lenders that make such loans.
  • For banks serving large immigrant populations, they should consider what information may be helpful to share with their customers about power of attorney and other bank access issues should a household member face deportation.

Payday lending

Payday lending continues to be a scourge on working families, charging 400% APR for short term loans that trap unsuspecting consumers in cycles of debt.

  • The CFPB has designed well considered and reasonable rules to protect consumers against abuses.
  • Federal intervention is needed as payday lenders and lobbyists have a stranglehold in Sacramento.
  • Banks should be incentivized to continue to develop small dollar alternatives to such products and to assist CDFIs and other community lenders that seek to fill this niche, and should also be penalized in their CRA exams for any financing to high-cost, predatory lenders.

Overdraft

According to the CFPB, the majority of overdrafts are on transactions of $24 or less and are repaid within 3 days or less. The CFPB calculated that with a median overdraft fee of $34, this is equivalent to a loan with a 17,000 APR.

  • It is telling that payday lenders defend their triple digit APR loans by saying consumers are merely making informed decisions to take out payday loans because they are less expensive than overdraft fees.
  • Banks continue to overly rely on overdraft fees as a source of fee revenue, to the detriment of their clients. CFPB rules on abusive overdraft policies are important, and all regulators should independently examine the impact of overdraft on bank customers, and work with their banks to end this product.

 

More on CRC’s Redlining Complaint Against CIT Group

Redlining Complaint Against OneWest Bank filed by California Reinvestment Coalition

Mortgage lending in 2015 (CRC)

The complaint alleges that OneWest Bank’s lending to borrowers in communities of color is low in absolute terms, low compared to its peer banks, and is lower than one would expect, given the size of the Asian, African American and Latino populations in Southern California.

Branch locations OWB

As part of the complaint, an analysis of the bank’s assessment areas found that OneWest has only 1 branch in an Asian majority census tract, no branches in African American majority census tracts, and 11 branches in Hispanic majority census tracts.

Branches in Asian, African American, and Hispanic majority trats (OWB)

While OneWest’s foreclosure record is not part of the redlining complaint, analysis by CRC and Urban Strategies Council found that OneWest was nine times as likely to foreclose in communities of color as compared to extending mortgage loans in communities of color.

OWB foreclosures vs originations

Service Members Deserve More Transparency From On-Base Banks, Credit Unions

New research from Pew on banks at military bases and how well information is disclosed to servicemembers.  As a reminder, you can also check out our report from earlier this summer that we conducted with our partners in North Carolina, New York, Illinois, and California: HOW BANKS SELL OVERDRAFT: RESULTS OF OVERDRAFT MYSTERY SHOPPING IN FOUR KEY STATES

Bankers Sell Overdraft Without Understanding It

Overdraft Fees

Banks make tens of billions of dollars in revenue every year on overdraft fees so it’s no surprise that many banks pitch it as a service to potential customers. However, most bank customers may not realize that there are a number of rules about overdraft. Another surprise is how poorly bankers themselves understand how it works and how confusing their explanations are when asked  about it by customers.

 Most people hate overdraft fees. In fact, 68% percent of those polled by Pew Charitable Trusts said they’d rather be declined at the register than overspend and get hit with overdraft fees. In 2010, federal bank regulators required banks to make overdraft optional: account owners are to be given the opportunity to opt in if they want it, and opt out any time after that if they don’t. But over half of those who are currently enrolled don’t remember signing up.

CRC and our colleagues at three other organizations across the country (Reinvestment Partners in North Carolina, New Economy Project in New York, and Woodstock Institute in Illinois) sent “mystery shoppers” to major banks to see how overdraft was presented to potential bank customers in four cities. You can read the full report here: HOW BANKS SELL OVERDRAFT: RESULTS OF OVERDRAFT MYSTERY SHOPPING IN FOUR KEY STATES

The results of the mystery shopping show:

  1.  In all four cities, banks’ explanations of overdraft programs were highly inconsistent, and often unclear and incorrect. The inconsistent and erroneous information bank personnel provided to mystery shoppers raise concerns about banks’ training of staff and sales practices and suggest that banks may not be giving people the information they need to understand overdraft programs and make informed choices
  2. Bank employees often did not clearly or correctly explain how overdraft fees are triggered.The misinformation made it difficult or impossible for shoppers to understand the real costs of overdraft and make informed decisions.
  3. Bank employees frequently did not explain the opt-in requirement for ATM and debit courtesy overdraft, and led people to believe that it was an automatic account feature, raising serious concerns about whether the large banks are complying with federal regulations.
  4. In two of the cities, bank branches visited in predominantly non-white neighborhoods had limited staff availability and long wait times, in stark contrast to well-staffed branches in predominantly white neighborhoods. The poor service clearly affected the quality of assistance provided to customers in non-white neighborhoods.

The four organizations urge federal banking regulators and the CFPB to:

  1.  Prohibit overdraft feeson all ATM withdrawals and debit card transactions.
  2. Limit the fees a bank may charge for overdrafts to an amount commensurate with the actual cost of the transaction to the bank and proportional to the actual amount overdrawn.
  3. Prohibit banks from reordering transactions to maximize overdraft fees.
  4. Prohibit banks from providing financial incentives to branch or bank employees for the sale of overdraft products to customers.
  5. Create a uniform standard for how banks should verbally describe overdraft products and fees.
  6. Require training of bank employees on the verbal explanation of overdraft standards and conduct periodic reviews of training and compliance.
  7. Limit the number of times a financial institutions may impose any type of overdraft charges to once a month, or a maximum of six charges in a 12-month period, whichever comes first.

Overdraft fees are still hitting us hard, and hitting lower income, nonwhites the hardest

The solution is for banks to remove the overdraft feature. Period.

Back in 2010, federal regulators responded to public outrage over the “$35 cup of coffee” – the result of a debit card charge that went over by $5 and triggered a $30 fee – by requiring that banks give customers the choice to “opt in” for overdraft service or not. Some consumer advocates called for better disclosure, urging large, bold print in clear language and simple formats so that consumers would make a more informed choice.  Four years later, new research by the Pew Charitable Trusts shows that consumers are still paying overdraft fees- now averaging $35- while over half do not remember signing up for that option.

The communities that CRC advocates for are hit hardest.

Overdraft fees take a huge chunk out of people’s pockets. People who pay them usually pay 3 or more and most report that their last overdraft ended up costing them at least $30 , sometimes over $100 to over $200 in fees while their account was negative. Predictably, the communities that CRC advocates for are hit hardest: people who earn under $100,000 are more than twice as likely to pay these fees, and nonwhites are 85% more likely than whites to pay them.

The fees cause a ripple effect: over a quarter of overdrafters go on to close their checking account because of overdrafts, thereby increasing the rate of unbanked and underbanked households who to turn to check cashers and prepaid cards for basic financial services. No wonder the members of our community with the least amount of money to spare- welfare recipients-  tend to have an attitude of “we don’t do banks.”

Clearly, requiring banks to give customers the choice to “opt-in” and to provide better disclosure did not reduce the harmful effects of overdraft, so what will?

Most overdrafters say they would rather be declined at the register than be allowed to overspend and charged a $35 overdraft fee.

The simplest answer is this: banks should remove overdraft from their accounts. This is not a pipe dream. Major banks are finally getting the idea that people don’t want bank accounts that will cause them to fall into fee traps. Bank of America, Citibank and Union Bank all have accounts now that either do not allow overdrafts for debit card purchases (the biggest source of these charges) or not at all.

With these options, customers do not have to turn to unregulated products like prepaid cards. Customers can use their debit cards in major ATM networks so they can avoid out of network fees that can also add up. And most importantly, customers can use their debit cards with the security that if they try to buy something without enough money in the account, they won’t get charged a fee because the bank will just decline the transaction.

Simple. Affordable. Safe.

CRC has developed a set of standards for bank accounts called “SafeMoney” that advocates, service providers and everyday people can use to evaluate potential bank accounts. We are using it with welfare administrators and financial education providers to help welfare recipients avoid ATM and overdraft fees all at once. Advocates working to reduce the rate of unbanked and underbanked households should also use it. After all, there is no point to helping someone open a bank account, only to watch them drown in overdraft fees and close their account. No overdraft accounts just make more sense.