On October 22, the DOJ, in collaboration with the CFPB and the OCC, announced a new initiative to combat redlining and lending discrimination. The Combatting Redlining Initiative will be led by the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division’s Housing and Civil Enforcement Section in partnership with U.S. Attorney’s offices, and will, among other things, (i) “ensure that fair lending enforcement is informed by local expertise on housing markets and the credit needs of local communities of color”; (ii) “[e]xpand the department’s analyses of potential redlining to both depository and non-depository institutions” (the DOJ noted that non-depository lenders now make the majority of mortgages in the U.S.); (iii) strengthen financial regulator partnerships to ensure fair lending violations are identified and referred to the DOJ; and (iv) increase fair lending coordination with state attorneys general to identify potential violations. Attorney General Merrick Garland stated that the initiative will “address modern-day redlining by making far more robust use of our fair lending authorities,” and marks the DOJ’s “most aggressive, coordinated effort to address redlining.” Garland noted that several redlining investigations are currently ongoing and more are expected to be opened in the upcoming months.
In his remarks, CFPB Director Rohit Chopra also warned that the Bureau will be “closely watching for digital redlining, disguised through so-called ‘neutral algorithms, that may reinforce the biases that have long existed.’” He added that “the speed with which banks and lenders are turning lending and advertising decisions over to algorithms is concerning,” and cautioned against assuming that algorithms will be bias free.
In conjunction with the announcement of the multi-agency initiative, the DOJ, CFPB, and OCC, took action against a national bank for alleged redlining practices. According to the complaint, the bank violated the Fair Housing Act, ECOA, and the CFPA by deliberately engaging in conduct that discouraged consumers in majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in the Memphis metropolitan area from seeking credit. The bank also allegedly established a limited number of branches in majority-Black and Hispanic communities, and did not provide mortgage-lending services to walk-in customers in these neighborhoods. The complaint further alleged, among other things, that the bank’s fair lending policies and procedures did not adequately ensure equal access to credit to majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhoods, and that internal governance and oversight committees to oversee fair lending were not established until after the OCC initiated a fair lending examination of the bank.
Under the terms of the proposed settlement, the bank will be required to pay a $5 million civil money penalty. The bank will also have to invest $3.85 million through a loan subsidy program to increase access to credit, and provide $400,000 to develop community partnerships to increase access to residential mortgage credit. The loan subsidy program will go towards closing cost assistance, down payment assistance, and payment of mortgage insurance premiums. Additionally, the bank must increase branches and outreach efforts in majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhoods, devote at least $200,000 in targeted advertising annually to generate applications for mortgages in these neighborhoods, and take remedial efforts to improve its fair lending compliance.