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|While the Community Reinvestment Act states that banks have an ongoing
duty to serve low and moderate income neighborhoods, and instructs the bank regulators to
review banks' performance, and to consider this performance when banks apply to expand,
many banks continue to underserve poor neighborhoods, and communities of color. What can
The only real enforcement of the CRA occurs when a company applies to buy or to charter a bank. This is not just ICP's position: it is also the legal position of the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel. Therefore, perhaps more than other community groups, ICP encourages low income people and organizations to submit comments about banks' CRA performance to the regulators, particularly when the under- performing bank is seeking to expand.
The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 chipped away at the CRA, but by no means repealed it. This Act slows the CRA examination cycle for banks with assets below $250 million to once every four or five years, and imposes new reporting requirements on community groups that seek to enforce the CRA, including by submitting comments to the bank regulatory agencies.
Last year, the agencies rated over 98% of banks as either Outstanding or Satisfactory, despite that fact that, for example, the banking industry continues to deny the mortgage loan applications of African Americans and Latinos twice as frequently as those of whites.
Because the regulators have so inflated the CRA grading system, the one pro-CRA provision of the Gramm - Leach - Bliley Act (requiring financial holding companies' banks to have "Satisfactory" or "Outstanding" CRA ratings) is of little practical effect. When a bank moves to acquire an insurance company, the only venue for public participation is before a state insurance regulator, under a fair housing / consumer compliance standard, rather than a CRA standard. For this, contact the Inner City Public Interest Law Center.
You can review a bank's CRA rating, In some cases a copy of the CRA evaluations of a bank can be obtained electronically from their regulator, in other cases copies must be obtained by contacting the bank or their regulator directly to request a paper copy.
Community groups can also raise their concerns to the banks, outside of, or prior to, the public comment process on expansion applications. These comment letters can be sent to the bank's CEO, the bank's CRA officer and to the bank's CRA regulator. CRA officers are responsible for designing the bank's CRA programs, but also meeting with (and, to be cynical, placating) community groups. ICP's experience has been that bank CRA officers rarely offer meaningful solutions without a current expansion application. But it's worth trying, particularly with banks that rarely apply to expand.
If you coordinate your efforts with a significant body of other concerned citizens, you may decide to attempt to convince the bank to enter into a CRA agreement. These agreements usually provide for specific lending and/or branching targets, in specific geographies, over a number of years. ICP's recent agreements have also included protections against abuses in subprime (high interest rate) lending.
Reviewing some of the recent approval orders by bank regulators will help you gauge the likely response to your protest. Most long-time CRA activists agree that there are significant problems with how loosely the regulators enforce CRA, so you shouldnt expect miracles. There are two basic paths, that sometimes overlap: in one, groups seek to negotiate the best CRA agreements they can, given the regulators increasing laxity. In the other, a smaller number of groups "go to the mat," seeking to win precedents in an agencies' conditional approval. The Office of Thrift Supervision's Travelers FSB conditional approval is an example of new CRA conditions imposed on an insurance company applying for permission to engage in lending activities. If the regulators ignore legitimate concerns, a group can also try to get a court to review the regulators' approval. ICP has undertaken this last strategy in the past few years, with limited success. ICP has obtained a temporary restraining order against the consummation of a merger, and, by seeking court review, has made the regulators look more closely at the issues raised. For more information, consult the Inner City Public Interest Law Center.
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