Baltimore, MD

Baltimore files new Wells Fargo lending lawsuit

April 08, 2010
Wells Fargo's discriminatory practices, and the resulting unnecessary foreclosures in the city's minority neighborhoods, have inflicted significant, direct, and continuing financial harm on Baltimore," the city said in a 107-page complaint filed Wednesday in Baltimore federal court.
     The city filed its complaint on the same day Wells Fargo said it will let the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People review its lending practices, to settle a predatory lending lawsuit brought by the civil rights group.
     Based in San Francisco, Wells Fargo is the largest U.S. mortgage lender and the fourth-largest U.S. bank by assets, regulatory filings show.

What a real estate agent can and can't tell you

July 26, 2009
Ask a real estate agent about schools, and you might get nothing more than a pained smile and a school-information website or two.
     Agents are afraid they're going to get into trouble with the federal Fair Housing Act, that's why. The law aims to stop housing discrimination, including the steering of people to or away from neighborhoods based on factors like race, gender and religion.
     The National Fair Housing Alliance, putting agents to the test during the housing boom, filed complaints against real estate companies for allegedly telling white clients -- but not minority clients -- to avoid certain neighborhoods because of the schools.
     Such testing -- and federal-complaint-filing -- has not gone unnoticed by agents. When I interviewed Realtors for today's story about the impact of school test scores on such non-classroom matters as home values, there was some squirming over the phone line.
     I wondered what agents really can say on the subject of schools. So I asked John Trasviña, assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
     "There's a different way of looking at it that I think will be a more broad answer to your question, and that is that real estate agents ought to share information with clients on an even-handed basis,"Trasviña said. "The question isn't what can they say, but whether they say is said to everybody."

City can proceed with Wells Fargo lawsuit

July 03, 2009
A federal judge on Thursday denied Wells Fargo's motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Baltimore over what city officials said were racially discriminatory lending practices that led to a wave of foreclosures that cost the city millions.
     The courtroom victory means the city, whose lawsuit is being closely watched by other municipalities, could gain access to the inner workings of one of the largest mortgage providers in the region.
     U.S. District Judge Benson E. Legg wrote in a memo Thursday that the city had produced enough evidence to continue its claim and is entitled to discovery.
     In the wave of lawsuits filed after the housing market began to tumble last year, the Baltimore case stands out because the city says it - not just the borrowers - suffered damages. It appears to be the only such case in the country, now that a Cleveland lawsuit with similar themes was tossed out this spring by a state judge who thought it was too broad.

Congressional hearing looks into Wells Fargo predatory lending

July 01, 2009
An epic legal showdown between Wells Fargo bank and the city of Baltimore will occur on Monday July 6 in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Benson E. Legg. The city of Baltimore is suing the bank for engaging in deliberate predatory lending practices that targeted Black and Latino consumers. Judge Legg will decide on whether the case can go forward.
     The Baltimore Sun reports that the suit has potentially far reaching implications:
     Barbara Samuels, a fair housing attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, which has been following the case, called it innovative and potentially groundbreaking. The city filing rather than the individual homeowners keeps the focus on pattern and business practices, as opposed to getting lost in the weeds of individual transactions, Samuels said.

Public housing tenants and advocates vent to agency

July 01, 2009
Public housing tenants decried their living conditions, as advocates urged city officials to improve communication with residents and address the diminished availability of low-income homes.
     In a three-hour hearing attended by more than 50 people Monday night at City Hall, officials from the Housing Authority of Baltimore City along with city councilmembers listened as several public housing tenants complained of unresponsive management, while advocates maintained that the central problem confronting the agency is a lack of affordable homes.
     ACLU fair housing lawyer Barbara Samuels testified that the city faced "an urgent crisis" with nearly 30,000 households on waiting lists for public housing or Section 8 vouchers. Anatonia Fasanelli, executive director of the Homeless Persons Representation Project, added that the backlog has contributed to the city’s increase in homelessness.
     "There are families, there are individuals, there are veterans, there are persons with disabilities, who have nowhere to go in this city," Fasanelli said.

Bank accused of pushing mortgage deals on Blacks

June 06, 2009
As she describes it, Beth Jacobson and her fellow loan officers at Wells Fargo Bank "rode the stagecoach from hell" for a decade, systematically singling out blacks in Baltimore and suburban Maryland for high-interest subprime mortgages.
     Matt Roth for The New York Times A foreclosed home on Barclay Street in Baltimore. The city is suing Wells Fargo Bank over its mortgage lending practices in black neighborhoods. Matt Roth for The New York Times Another foreclosed house on Baltimore's North Brice Street, which shares a downed fence with a house still lived in.
     These loans, Baltimore officials have claimed in a federal lawsuit against Wells Fargo, tipped hundreds of homeowners into foreclosure and cost the city tens of millions of dollars in taxes and city services.
     Wells Fargo, Ms. Jacobson said in an interview, saw the black community as fertile ground for subprime mortgages, as working-class blacks were hungry to be a part of the nation's home-owning mania. Loan officers, she said, pushed customers who could have qualified for prime loans into subprime mortgages. Another loan officer stated in an affidavit filed last week that employees had referred to blacks as "mud people" and to subprime lending as "ghetto loans."

Ex-workers allege race-based loan approach at Wells Fargo

June 01, 2009
The city of Baltimore has beefed up its groundbreaking racial discrimination lawsuit against Wells Fargo with sometimes shocking testimony from a pair of the megabank’s former subprime-loan officers.
     The two whistleblowers claim their co-workers targeted black ZIP codes and churches, used software to “translate” marketing materials into African-American vernacular, and referred to subprime loans in minority communities as “ghetto loans” and to borrowers as “mud people.”
     Their declarations were attached to an amended complaint filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.
     The loan officers, who worked for Wells Fargo in the Baltimore-Washington area from the late 1990s until 2007, also alleged bank employees deceptively steered prime borrowers into subprime loans for their own financial benefit and joked that they were “riding the stagecoach to Hell.”

First Mariner will pay up to $1M to settle overcharging allegations

May 12, 2009
First Mariner Bank will pay up to $1 million to settle federal allegations that it overcharged black, Hispanic and female borrowers for residential mortgage loans.
     The Baltimore-based bank has not admitted to any wrongdoing, but agreed to settle the dispute with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. rather than incur additional legal expenses, according to a filing by its parent company, First Mariner Bancorp, with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday.
     Dennis Finnegan, executive vice president of First Mariner, said in an interview Tuesday that payments to borrowers will depend on the loan they received. He said the bank will contact borrowers who should be reimbursed.
     Regulators said the bank violated the Equal Credit Opportunity Act and the Fair Housing Act in 2005, 2006 and 2007, by discriminating against some borrowers, mostly in Northern Virginia. The borrowers paid higher interest rates and more in points on home mortgages “than those charged to similarly-situated white or male borrowers,” according to the filing.

Feds sue Baltimore over group-home permit process

April 24, 2009
The Department of Justice, acting on a longstanding threat, announced Friday it has filed a civil rights lawsuit against Baltimore alleging that the city's zoning code discriminates against those seeking drug treatment.
     The city code requires those who want to open a group home for drug treatment to obtain a conditional zoning ordinance from the City Council, a requirement that gives the legislative branch of city government veto power over group homes. Other types of housing for the disabled, such as housing for the mentally ill, does not require City Council approval.
     "Persons with disabilities must not be subject to different, and more burdensome, zoning standards because of unfounded stereotypes," said Loretta King, acting assistant attorney general for the civil rights division in an e-mailed statement. "Drug treatment programs are vital to our nation's health. We must not allow discrimination to prevent such programs for opening."

Rights advocate feels 'vindicated'

November 13, 2008
For Granville "Sonny" Wehland, the election of Barack Obama vindicated his efforts in the name of civil rights four decades ago.
     In the 1960s, Wehland worked with the late Sen. James Clark Jr. to garner support for anti-discrimination legislation that would allow blacks to enter public places in Maryland. A lifelong Democrat and ardent Obama supporter, Wehland said he didn't understand then - just as he can't comprehend now - why anyone cared about the color of someone's skin.
     "Obama wasn't the right minority for the job - he was the right candidate," the 74-year-old Howard County native said.
     Wehland's conclusion that racial differences are inconsequential dates to boyhood, when he was growing up on farmland that Snowden River Parkway now traverses. He recalls the blacks who worked on his family's 60 acres, picking tomatoes and string beans.

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