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Published: Thursday, 10/21/2004

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At the Fair Housing Center, the 2003-04 fiscal year (July 1, 2003-June 30, 2004) was significant for two reasons. Two trends that have been constant for a period of years were interrupted recently.

The first change has to do with the number of complaints received by the Fair Housing Center. This past year resulted in the highest number of housing discrimination complaints to the Center in more than five years. The Center received 379 complaints during fiscal year 03-04 and recovered over $473,000 in damages for victims of housing discrimination. This is 200 more complaints than during the previous year. Prior to this year, there was a steady decline in the number of housing discrimination complaints. That trend might lead those outside of the fair housing movement to believe that housing discrimination was gradually going away.

Those of us within the movement have not witnessed a decrease, but rather an evolution in the nature of complaints over the years. When the Center was founded in 1975 the complaints dealt primarily with blockbusting and steering tactics. Complaints of discrimination in rental and sales transactions have remained while discrimination in other aspects of housing has surfaced.

In the 1980s and early 90s housing discrimination evolved to include insurance redlining. In the late 1990s there was a further evolution of discrimination complaints to include predatory lending. Now we are experiencing an overwhelming number of predatory lending cases.

That leads to the second significant occurrence of the past year. While the changing nature of discrimination is clear one constant has remained until now. Historically the majority of housing discrimination complaints have involved rental transactions. For the first time the number of rental complaints were surpassed by another type of complaint. During the past fiscal year the Center has received more predatory lending complaints than any other type.

It goes much further than that. The Center has received more predatory lending complaints than all other types of complaints combined. More than 56% of the complaints received by the Center involved predatory lending. This presents us with a number of challenges.

Predatory lending complaints place certain demands on the Center. There is a considerable expense associated with the investigation in terms of staff time and agency resources. Staff members spend a considerable amount of time meeting with clients and reviewing loan documents. Additionally, investigation of these cases often requires us to run credit reports, secure PaceNet analyses, and obtain independent appraisals all at the expense of the agency.

Further, because of the concealed provisions and the sometimes fraudulent manner in which many of these transactions are conducted, many consumers don t realize that they may have been victimized until after they are forced to take a closer look at their paperwork. This typically occurs when they attempt to refinance. Therefore, they usually don t come to the Center until after the statutory period within which to file an administrative charge has expired. This limits the Center s options with regard to our ability to file an administrative complaint or attempt to otherwise resolve the matter.

The increased number of complaints and the apparent shift to predatory lending complaints mean several things. The fact that there has been an increase in the number of complaints is a good indication that we are doing an effective job with education and community outreach.

Many clients complaining of predatory loans come to us upon discovering the discriminatory aspects of their loans. However, the majority contacted the Center in response to the press conference held in August 2003 announcing the launch of the Predatory Lending Remediation Program and subsequent announcements.

The shift in focus to predatory lending presents not only challenges, but also opportunities. Because of the unique nature of predatory lending complaints we are forced to handle cases in different ways. We have been more creative in negotiating settlements with organizations in the lending industry. Also, we have been aggressive in forming dynamic partnerships with many in the industry, including lenders and loan servicers to address troublesome policies within the industry.



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