Chicago City Council Chambers (wikimedia pic)

September 13th, 2021, to the Chicago City Council Finance Committee meeting.

My name is Horacio Mendez and I’m the President and CEO of the Woodstock Institute. The purpose of my comments are to emphasize the need for Chicago to match dozens of other cities and pass a substantive and sorely needed City ordinance that’ll make bank performance in Chicago transparent, and enshrine an annual public hearing about that performance.

Let me be clear, this isn’t a regulation and there’s no data being requested that banks aren’t already providing and making publicly available. We just want to make this information easier for Chicagoans to find, and for us to have an annual conversation about what that data says. 

This isn’t a regulation and there’s no data being requested that banks aren’t already providing and making publicly available. We just want to make this information easier for Chicagoans to find, and for us to have an annual conversation about what that data says. 

What I’ve heard is the most controversial aspect of the Lending Equity ordinance is the logical demand that banks provide proof that they’re meeting their public commitments to diversify staff. Some have even claimed that they don’t have this information, which is curious given that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission requires all private employers with more than 100 employees to file data on the racial, ethnic and gender composition of their workforce by job category.

As a former bank executive overseeing Government Affairs and the team that provides data like this, we spent hours looking at the data before submitting it … seeing how we compare with peers and if there was anything that represented a risk to the bank … be it financial or reputational. This is a level of local scrutiny that is not a normal part of what bank Community Reinvestment or compliance teams conduct. In some cases, it spurred us to address lending inequities exposed by our review and work with partner organizations and city agencies to close identified gaps.

If that happens, even just once, it’s well worth any whining by banks about having to do extra homework because we’re not feeling all warm and fuzzy inside about them doing this on their own. 

Speaking of which, while the Department of Finance, the City Treasurer’s Office and the City Council all have existing responsibilities to hold banks accountable through the Request For Proposal and municipal depository designation process, the Inspector General’s August 31st report has shown that enforcement changes based on the composition of City administration and the Council itself. There’s too much at stake to base our decision regarding this ordinance on an ever-changing political landscape … let’s pass the Lending Equity ordinance, let’s democratize data, and let’s enforce the right of Chicagoans to talk about economic justice through an annual public hearing. 

On behalf of Woodstock Institute and the entire IL Housing Policy Task Force … let’s get this done and get started on an equitable recovery.

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