Using ACORN To Misrepresent the Community Reinvestment Act, Once Again

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009 at 9:31 am

When is this ever going to end? Conservative lawmakers are seizing on ACORN’s troubles to once again go after the Community Reinvestment Act, an anti-redlining law that somehow became a scapegoat for the housing crisis last year, the AP reports.

The 1977 Community Reinvestment Act was intended to end redlining, a practice in which banks in effect walled off many inner-city neighborhoods from mortgage loans. But some GOP lawmakers say it has outlived its purpose and is being used inappropriately by ACORN to shake down banks for money. They want to repeal the law, scale it back or at least block a Democratic proposal to expand it.

Critics of the law are linking it to ACORN — a subject many Democrats wish would go away — at every opportunity.

This is just silly. The idea that the CRA is to blame for the subprime mess is nothing more than an urban myth, picked up and repeated by people in power who should know better. We’ve said this many times before, but let’s repeat it again, for all those lawmakers who continue to cling to the idea of the CRA as an easy target: The overwhelming majority of subprime loans made during the housing crisis came from unregulated lenders not covered by the CRA.

And although CRA opponents portray it as a burdensome regulation that forced banks into making bad loans to poor people, the mortgage industry never looked at the CRA that way. Guy Cecala, publisher of Inside Mortgage Finance, which covers the subprime industry, told us last year the CRA was seen as a loose regulation that caused little concern.

Banks were routinely found in compliance with the CRA, and an insider joke among bankers was that you’d have to mug a disabled, elderly, minority homeowner to lose your outstanding CRA rating, Cecala said.

Beyond that, as the housing boom grew, so did the number of unregulated mortgage lenders, who made the bulk of subprime loans and who didn’t even have to comply with CRA rules, said John Taylor, president of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, which represents housing and community development groups. Some 75 percent of subprime loans were made by independent mortgage banks and lenders not covered by the CRA, he said.

The blame-the-CRA movement has grown into a debate almost entirely divorced from the facts. Throwing ACORN and its troubles into the mix only makes that situation worse. A robust, informed discussion on homeownership and low-income borrowers would be welcome. The CRA/ACORN dustup is just the opposite, an exercise in ignorance and headlines that adds nothing to the worthy investigation of America’s housing policies and prudent financial regulation.

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Using ACORN To Misrepresent the Community Reinvestment Act, Once Again
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