CRA, ACORN, Democrats, Obama and the Housing Market Crisis

Following up on my post featuring an excellent video background for America’s current financial woes, I thought to dig deeper into The Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 (CRA). A lot of scrutiny is going to be directed toward it, and rightly so. Well intentioned at the outset, CRA was hijacked by the political Left and driven to this place and time by the unscrupulous with no regard for the consequences.

Signed by Jimmy Carter, CRA purposed to increase credit availablity in Lower and Middle Income areas (LMI). Such areas were often largely inhabited by the poor or minorities. Thus, if banks were lending less in LMI areas, it could mean they were discriminating. There was even a term coined, “redlining”, for the alleged bank practice of outlining areas on maps in which they would not do business, with a red pen. When the Housing and Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) of 1976 did show low levels of lending in LMI areas, discrimination was assumed and CRA passed the following year.

Realistic alternative meanings for HMDA data were proposed and evaluated, but it was too late. Howard Husock reports

A September 1999 study by Freddie Mac, for instance, confirmed what previous Federal Reserve and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation studies had found: that African-Americans have disproportionate levels of credit problems, which explains why they have a harder time qualifying for mortgage money. As Freddie Mac found, blacks with incomes of $65,000 to $75,000 a year have on average worse credit records than whites making under $25,000.

That assessment was over 20 years too late to stop CRA. By then it had already infected the banking industry and a catalyst had been found to accelerate the process.

In 1977 banking was heavily regulated. CRA required banks to report compliance. This information was used by regulators to approve mergers, to OK opening new branches and closing old ones. Doing business required good CRA compliance. During the 70s and 80s “Regulators asked banks to demonstrate that they were trying to reach their entire “assessment area” by advertising in minority-oriented newspapers or by sending their executives to serve on the boards of local community groups.” These softer compliance reporting requirements drastically changed in 1995 under Bill Clinton’s administration. CRA was amended, adding 2 features which began and drove the Housing Bubble.

First, compliance would now be measured only by one criteria: actual loans made. Husock writes

The new regulations de-emphasized subjective assessment measures in favor of strictly numerical ones. Bank examiners would use federal home-loan data, broken down by neighborhood, income group, and race, to rate banks on performance. There would be no more A’s for effort. Only results—specific loans, specific levels of service—would count.

It was no longer acceptable to prove you were looking for the smaller number of good loan candidates in a larger pool of bad candidates. CRA compliance would only be granted if you actually found someone to loan to. True to Leftist ideology, banks were no longer good community citizens if they provided equal access to loans. They were only good if they provided equal outcomes to borrowers. Responsible lending be damned!

As bad as the first change was, the second would prove even worse, especially seen from 2008’s perspective. Once again, Howard Husock says it best.

Crucially, the new CRA regulations also instructed bank examiners to take into account how well banks responded to complaints. The old CRA evaluation process had allowed advocacy groups a chance to express their views on individual banks, and publicly available data on the lending patterns of individual banks allowed activist groups to target institutions considered vulnerable to protest. But for advocacy groups that were in the complaint business, the Clinton administration regulations offered a formal invitation. The National Community Reinvestment Coalition—a foundation-funded umbrella group for community activist groups that profit from the CRA—issued a clarion call to its members in a leaflet entitled “The New CRA Regulations: How Community Groups Can Get Involved.” “Timely comments,” the NCRC observed with a certain understatement, “can have a strong influence on a bank’s CRA rating.”

This led to all manner of abuse. Deregulation massively changed the environment which existed in 1977 when CRA was first passed. Those changes were not taken into account by the 1995 changes to CRA, they were merely exploited by activists with agendas having nothing to do with lending. Deregulation meant more bank mergers, which in turn were dependent upon good CRA scores. But scores could be depressed, meaning expensive delays in business development, simply by formal complaints directed against a bank. It mattered not if the complaints were legitimate. The process was the costly component, not the outcome. Leftist groups like ACORN and others used this to their financial advantage. In vintage Jesse Jackson style shakedowns, they received real windfall profits as banks paid them not to follow up on threats of costly, frivolous complaints.

Even more disturbing, lending decisions were removed from bankers and handed over to activists as the activists were given a powerful seat at the table. ACORN in part, not banks alone, now controlled who got CRA mandated loans. Banks got the risk, while ACORN and others just got rich! In light of this, it is realistic to say it was not just Government Democrats who brought America’s current financial woes down on us, Democratic activists also played key roles!

It makes more sense that activists with no incentive to pay attention to risk would make bad loans than would bankers who understand the lending process. Why should ACORN care if the loans they hand out, but for which banks are responsible, are defaulted on? As we have learned in the last few months, ACORN should have cared. The numbers are staggering and the impact cannot be overestimated! Husock reports in 2000,

By intervening—even just threatening to intervene—in the CRA review process, left-wing nonprofit groups have been able to gain control over eye-popping pools of bank capital, which they in turn parcel out to individual low-income mortgage seekers. A radical group called ACORN Housing has a $760 million commitment from the Bank of New York; the Boston-based Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America has a $3-billion agreement with the Bank of America; a coalition of groups headed by New Jersey Citizen Action has a five-year, $13-billion agreement with First Union Corporation. Similar deals operate in almost every major U.S. city. Observes Tom Callahan, executive director of the Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance, which has $220 million in bank mortgage money to parcel out, “CRA is the backbone of everything we do.”

Even worse, ACORN gets to double- and even triple-dip. Again from Husock, “In addition to providing the nonprofits with mortgage money to disburse, CRA allows those organizations to collect a fee from the banks for their services in marketing the loans. The Senate Banking Committee has estimated that, as a result of CRA, $9.5 billion so far has gone to pay for services and salaries of the nonprofit groups involved.” Activist organizations such as ACORN get shakedown payments, community influence and stature from being a reliable source for loan money and get what amount to “broker’s commissions” for doing so.

This is made even more relevant when one considers that the demon in the Housing market crisis is “greedy lenders” who engaged in “predatory lending practices” giving “huge loans to borrowers who couldn’t afford them”. I, personally, have wondered about the the numerous claims from borrowers that lenders didn’t fully explain their loan terms. I’ve often wondered why banks would engage in such suicidal practices. But if “lenders”, with literally NO liability or expertise yet armed with an agenda, controlled vast sums of loan funds, it becomes easier to understand. While many types of mortgages are currently in default, including loans to speculators who borrowed just to “flip” houses and not to live in them, it would be interesting to know how many bad loans came from banks and how many from ACORN’s “mortgage lenders”. “Greedy lenders making bad loans”, indeed!

The issue jumps from politics to politician when one considers the “Community Organizer” role Barack Obama is so proud of. It is no secret Obama worked for ACORN in Chicago where part of his work was suing financial institutions to force CRA compliance. It is no secret he continues to support the goals and strategies of ACORN. This would put Obama neck deep in creating the problem he is now asking America to send him to Washington to fix.

I’m reminded of the old saying about putting the fox in charge of the henhouse. Obama’s association with ACORN and specifically with lawsuits involving CRA compliance in Chicago taint him sufficiently in my mind to disqualify him as a candidate to lead this nation. If his idea of proper tactics and procedures is embodied in this sort of activity, if this is organization he sees as beneficial for a community, he should not be trusted with an even larger community to organize.

There will be more investigation into this matter in the days ahead. Stay tuned. And stay engaged. It may mean the difference between electing a man and a party that believes this sort of outrage is good for the American people and a man who believes in service to country over to service to self.

Blue Collar Muse