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Fair Housing Alliance Accuses Wells Fargo of Causing Blight in Minority Neighborhoods

We’ve heard stories for the past couple weeks about how banks are more keen to maintain properties in more affluent areas than in minority neighborhoods. Now, one fair housing group is trying to do something about that. The National Fair Housing Alliance filed a federal housing discrimination complaint against Wells Fargo to get the bank to maintain the upkeep on its REO (Real estate owned) properties in minority neighborhoods.

The alliance said last week that it scored the condition of foreclosed homes in nine regions, including Baltimore, and found disparities based on the racial makeup of neighborhoods. (The Baltimore metro area was an outlier in the alliance’s report: Though staffers found differences by neighborhood, the overall scores were basically equally lousy.)

That report didn’t name names. But this week’s complaint, filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, singles out Wells Fargo.

Some of the disrepair found on these properties include overgrown landscaping, broken locks and doors, and rotting trash in the yard.

The National Fair Housing Alliance argues that this is a violation of the Fair Housing Act. It actually lines up with a case in the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department against Wells Fargo, accusing the bank of discriminatory lending practices. So you put this all together, and you find that Wells illegally marketed and sold loans to minority borrowers that they couldn’t pay back, using fraudulent tactics. Then, when the borrowers fell behind, they foreclosed on them with false documents. And then, when the houses lay vacant, they failed to keep up the properties, plummeting the housing values for every other house in the community. This is a real ravaging of minority neighborhoods from Wells Fargo.

In Los Angeles, the City Council successfully passed a law charging banks up to $1,000 a day for failing to maintain their own foreclosed properties. And there are similar anti-blight restrictions in other municipalities. But clearly Wells Fargo and other banks don’t care if their REO shadow inventory goes to rot. After all, the foreclosure fraud settlement allows them to bulldoze the properties and get a dollar-for-dollar credit against their penalty. So why should they care?

This is an innovative way for an advocacy group to hold banks accountable. Of course, it has to get through HUD, who would only say they are reviewing the complaint.

Again, the entire complaint is available here.

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David Dayen

David Dayen