By Rebecca Knight

March 15, 2007

 

Mortgage lenders sell a ­disproportionate share of
high-cost, or subprime, home loans to blacks and other minorities in big cities
across the US,
according to two new reports.

 

A study conducted by the Woodstock Institute, a
Chicago-based organisation that promotes community development, and four other
groups found that home loans are more expensive for minorities in Boston,
Charlotte, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City and Rochester, New York.

 

In these six cities, blacks were 3.8 times more likely to
receive a higher-cost home loan than were white ­borrowers, while Latinos were
3.6 times more likely than white borrowers to receive a higher-cost loan.
Subprime loans – mortgages tailored to homebuyers with poor credit ratings –
typically have interest rates at least 3 percentage points above regular
mortgages.

 

Subprime loans have attracted heightened scrutiny in recent
weeks as defaults on US mortgages have increased and banks that specialise in
these products have imploded.

 

“It’s the ugly geographic pattern that we’ve seen before,”
said Paul Collier, director of litigation for Harvard Law School’s clinical
programme, as well as a trial lawyer mostly representing lower-income clients.
“Subprime lending is narrowly focused on neighbourhoods of colour.”

 

The study focused on lending by Citigroup, Countrywide,
GMAC, HSBC, JPMorgan Chase, Washington
Mutual and Wells Fargo. These lenders were analysed because they are among the
biggest financial institutions in the US
and all originated a substantial volume of both subprime loans and lower-cost
prime loans, according to the study. The banks that responded to requests for
comment dismissed the study’s findings. Each said it uses automated tools to
evaluate whether loans meet investor guidelines. Those tools do not consider
race, gender or ethnicity in determining the risk profile of a customer and,
therefore, the interest rates available on any loan, according to ­several
spokespeople.

 

A separate study on the subject showed that the trend is
particularly pronounced in Boston.
Jim Campen, an economics professor at University
of Massachusetts Boston, found that
high-income minorities were six to seven times more likely to have an expensive
mortgage than high-income whites. Around 70 per cent of black and Latino
borrowers in Greater Boston with incomes between $92,000 (£48,000, €70,000) and
$152,000 took out mortgages with high interest rates in 2005, according to the
study.

 

“This is just one manifestation of the great inequality of
American society,” said Prof Campen, a long time analyst of mortgage lending to
minorities. “This is news because it’s not just black people losing their
homes; it’s white investors on Wall Street losing their money.”

 

He said that because blacks are historically more “wary of
the banking system”, they are especially vulnerable to the “aggressive
marketing tactics” of subprime lenders. “They come knocking on your door, and
bombard you with letters and phone calls,” said Prof Campen.

 

There is also some evidence that blacks and Latinos do not
know their credit rating, he said, so the lenders, which are often divisions of
mainstream banks, make getting a loan much more convenient. “Their motto is:
‘When the banks say no, we’ll say yes,’ ’’ he said.