Greenlining Tells Fed: Communities of Color are “Canaries in the Coal Mine” of Economic Crisis

For Immediate Release

Greenlining Institute
Contact: 

Bruce Mirken, Greenlining Institute Media Relations Coordinator, 510-926-4022

Greenlining Tells Fed: Communities of Color are “Canaries in the Coal Mine” of Economic Crisis

$350 Billion Loss of Wealth Requires Strong Action to Update Community Reinvestment Act

LOS ANGELES - In
testimony today before a Los Angeles hearing convened by the Federal
Reserve system and other federal financial agencies, the Greenlining
Institute called for strong action to modernize the Community
Reinvestment Act (CRA), first passed in 1977. “In a sense, communities
of color have become the canaries in the coal mine of the economic
crisis,” Greenlining Community Reinvestment Director Preeti Vissa told
the hearing. “While the nation has experienced a recession, too many in
our communities have experienced a depression.”

Vissa’s full testimony is available online here.

Vissa spoke during a day-long
hearing called by the Fed to consider updates to rules implementing CRA,
passed to encourage banks and other financial institutions to meet the
credit needs of the communities they serve. Vissa noted that
foreclosures have drained $350 billion in assets from communities of
color and Small Business Administration lending to minority-owned
businesses has cratered, contributing to a growing racial wealth gap.
“For every dollar of wealth owned by a white family, an African American
or Latino family owns just 16 cents,” Vissa noted, adding that many
Asian American families are doing nearly as badly, but exact patterns
are harder to determine because current statistics lump all Asian
ethnicities together.

“As it is written today, CRA
lacks the power to address the inequities that are contributing to the
growing racial wealth gap,” Vissa told the hearing. She called for a
series of reforms, including:

1) Place diversity front and center.
Although the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston has called on financial
institutions to diversify their boards and staffs, African Americans,
Latinos and Asian Americans combined heldonly 9.3 percent of senior positions in the financial services industry in 2008.

2) Add minority business contracting to the CRA evaluation process.
Minority-led businesses are top job creators in low-income communities.
The California Public Utilities Commission’s supplier diversity program
represents a successful model that financial regulators could easily
adopt.

3) Adapt the CRA rating system to incentivize innovation.
The current rating system fails to adequately reward outstanding
efforts and sometimes excessively rewards mediocre performance. More
grade levels should be added, along with a “community development” test
that would reward lending to and investment in community health clinics,
community-based loan funds, green affordable housing construction, etc.

4) Expand CRA to include all industries that provide financial products.
The financial services industry has transformed radically since 1977,
and the law must adjust. A modernized CRA should include investment
banks, insurers, hedge funds, and other financial institutions not
presently covered.

5) Make CRA matter again.
Weak enforcement has left community groups such as Greenlining to try to
enforce the law from the outside. In addition to a modern ratings
system, CRA needs tougher penalties for non-compliance and systematic
opportunities for consumers to comment on the performance of banks.

“The world has changed since CRA
was enacted in 1977, and CRA’s failure to keep up has diminished its
effectiveness,” Vissa said. “We can make CRA matter again.”

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