From late-2008 to mid-2009, banks and financial institutions had already written off or written down credit losses on U.S. mortgages by over $1.6 trillion according to the OECD.
Charge-offs on just the CDO-financed portion of the subprime lending debacle were recently estimated by economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia to approach a half trillion dollars. The Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 is still the law of the land and, if it was a root cause of the last financial crisis, as opponents conclude, then it likely will be again.
CRA remains a point of contention. Its proponents, most recently Ellen Seidman and Mark Willis in American Banker, attack research purporting to find a link between the CRA loans and ultimate credit loss. CRA supporters implicitly share the official explanation that greed got the better of lenders and regulators were powerless to stop them.
CRA purportedly reflected a concern that local bankers were not lending "enough” to good borrowers in their communities or neighborhoods, which were typically characterized by ethnic and/or racial concentrations. This systemic market discrimination supposedly persisted throughout the last century. During the last decade, while greedy mortgage lenders were originating about 20 million subprime loans to borrowers of dubious credit, CRA proponents implicitly argue that lenders would still have discriminated systemically against profitable CRA-qualifying borrowers but for the requirement. Is any of this credible?
Competition in the mortgage banking industry was first labeled "cutthroat” in 1944 and has been ever since. Because older inner-city neighborhoods often had a much higher percentage of African-Americans — and, later, other racial minorities — the implicit concern of regulators and economists was illegal racial discrimination. Because incomes were also generally much lower in older inner-city neighborhoods, and the risk of a systemic decline in property values much greater, it was generally difficult to distinguish illegal racial profiling from legal credit discrimination.
But, by the end of 1977, there were literally thousands of potential loan brokers who would profit from originating and selling loans made in older inner-city neighborhoods if they could be underwritten to the standards of the most liberal investors nationwide, including the Federal Housing Administration. Local branch offices of banks were rarely responsible for mortgage lending decisions. Moreover, banks decided whether to sell or to hold mortgages for lots of financial reasons, so while there was plenty of competition to make good loans, this was unlikely to be reflected in the portfolio of any "community” banker.
In 2012, Oonagh McDonald found the CRA economic studies using Home Mortgage Disclosure Act of 1975 data to be seriously flawed, concluding that "the HMDA data did not serve a useful purpose throughout their history …” because the data didn't allow tracking the performance of loans subsequent to qualifying for CRA credit.
Subsequent statistical analysis of credit costs – whether low or most recently high – can always be criticized, but the same criticisms apply to studies purporting discrimination in the absence of CRA. You can buy McDonald's excellent book (for about $100) or ignore this ongoing methodological debate as irrelevant to what happened during the last decade.