Bank of America accused of racial discrimination

By Kaley Fowler

Chicago, Milwaukee and Indianapolis joined seven other cities Oct. 23 in filing a complaint against Bank of America, claiming the company is guilty of racial discrimination in how it maintains its foreclosed properties.

The National Fair Housing Alliance, an organization dedicated to ending housing discrimination, launched an investigation into several lenders in 2010 that examined 505 Midwest properties owned by Bank of America. According to the NFHA, the results indicated that the bank better maintains and markets foreclosed homes in white neighborhoods than it does in areas mostly populated by blacks and Latinos.

These findings prompted the NFHA to submit three racial discrimination complaints to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The complaints, submitted Sept. 25, Oct. 10 and Oct. 23, are currently being investigated by HUD.

“Bank of America has an obligation, a duty under federal law, not to discriminate,” said Peter Romer-Friedman, legal counsel for NFHA, during an Oct. 23 press conference. “Unfortunately, our investigation has revealed Bank of America has woefully failed to take care of its fair housing obligations.”

Cities involved in the complaint include Atlanta, Miami, Dallas, Dayton, Ohio, and Grand Rapids, Mich. State officials agree the bank is neglecting its obligations to certain real estate owned properties, also called forclosures or

bank-owned properties.

“While [real estate owned] properties in predominantly white neighborhoods were more likely to have neatly manicured lawns, securely locked doors and attractive ‘For Sale’ signs out front, homes in communities of color were more likely to have overgrown yards littered with trash, unsecured doors, broken windows and indications of marketing as a distressed sale,” the investigation results stated.

The investigations evaluated properties to determine which ones violated a list of 39 maintenance and marketing deficiencies, such as broken glass, water damage, overgrown lawns and no “For Sale” signs, and discovered the number of violations was significantly greater in minority neighborhoods.

“It is disheartening [to see] the devastation in certain communities because Bank of America doesn’t treat all neighborhoods equally,” said Anne Houghtaling, executive director of HOPE Fair Housing Center in Wheaton, Ill., in a written statement.

She said it is easy to identify Bank of America’s properties in communities of color.

“Anyone can spot a Bank of America property from down the block because there is trash, accumulated mail, overgrown grass and maybe even boarded up windows,” Houghtaling said. “In white communities, it would be hard to even tell the homes are foreclosed.”

Shanna Smith, president and CEO of NFHA, said the organization informed Bank of America of its findings in 2009, but has been unsuccessful in its attempts to persuade the financial institution to allocate more resources toward maintaining homes in minority neighborhoods.

Bank of America maintains that it does not discriminate against minority neighborhoods.

“While we share NFHA’s concern about neighborhoods, we strongly deny their allegations and stand behind our property maintenance and marketing practices,” Bank of America said in an Oct. 10 statement.

“Bank of America is committed to stabilizing and revitalizing communities that have been impacted by the economic downturn, foreclosures and property abandonment. We actively address the needs of such communities through existing programs, partnerships with nonprofits and governments and continued investment in

innovative programs.”

NFHA previously filed charges against Wells Fargo, which in July opted to pay a $175 million settlement after allegedly discriminating against black and Hispanic borrowers.