Merrick Garland, Biden DOJ unveil plan to crack down on discriminatory financial lenders

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Attorney General Merrick B. Garland on Friday announced a new Justice Department initiative to crack down on discriminatory financial lending practices.

During a news conference, Mr. Garland said the initiative will target illegal “redlining,” which occurs when a lender denies services to someone based on his race or ethnicity. 

Under the initiative, the Justice Department will ramp up efforts to investigate and file fair lending lawsuits under the 1968 Fair Housing Act and the 1974 Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which prohibit discriminating against someone based on race, religion, age or sex.

“Much has changed since the federal government engaged in Depression-era redlining, but discriminatory lending practices by financial institutions still exist,” Mr. Garland said. “Unfortunately, redlining remains a persistent form of discrimination that harms minority communities.”

A Justice Department spokesman mentioned two redlining cases filed in August against Trustmark National Bank and Cadence Bank, when asked by The Washington Times how many reports of redlining the agency has received, and how many related cases it has filed, in the last year. The spokesperson said the agency “can only report on cases that are public.”

The term “redlining” grew from housing programs in the 1930s-era New Deal, in which the federal government would create maps to rank the loan worthiness of residents in certain neighborhoods. Those outlined in red were deemed most risky, and they were most commonly Black neighborhoods.

Mr. Garland said redlining is contributing to the nation’s big racial wealth gap, which is “clearly reflected in current homeownership rates.”

The country’s homeownership rate is 65.4%, with White non-Hispanics at the highest rate (74.2%) and Blacks at the lowest rate (44.6%), according to Census Bureau data from the second quarter of 2021.

Under the initiative, the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division will work with U.S. Attorney’s offices to coordinate enforcement efforts on a broader scale. 

“Their participation will ensure that fair lending enforcement is informed by local expertise on housing markets, and the credit needs of local communities of color, their understanding of demographic shifts and relationships with community groups have proven quite valuable,” Mr. Garland said.

The division also will collaborate with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, financial regulatory agencies, consumer advocates and industry stakeholders to zero in on discriminatory lenders.

“Together, we will proactively seek to determine if lending institutions are engaged in redlining, and when fair lending violations are discovered, the Justice Department will act,” he said.

The new initiative adds to the Biden administration’s efforts to increase minority homeownership. House Democrats are working to pass a $3.5 trillion package that would expand the social safety net and currently includes $300 billion for housing programs.

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