WASHINGTON — Fair-housing activists met here Monday to decry predatory lending and call on Congress to do more to help low- and moderate-income people.

Chanting “predatory lenders, criminal offenders,” members of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now rallied on the Capitol steps, and the group gave people a forum to tell their stories about exorbitant interest rates, deceptive marketing, and being forced to buy single-premium credit insurance as part of a loan agreement.

During an earlier rally at a local church, Gloria Waldron, an activist from Brooklyn, N.Y., said lenders that target low- and moderate-income areas with high minority populations “flood us with money and charge super-high interest rates and fees.”

The high costs of these loans force people into a cycle of perpetual refinancing at higher and higher rates, she said.

Acorn representatives recently met with the comptrollers of New York State and New York City and with “major Wall Street investment firms” to discuss how banks can avoid providing capital to lenders involved in predatory practices, Ms. Waldron said.

Monday’s demonstration also included strident criticism from Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., of the Bush administration’s proposed tax cut. “Twelve million families with 24 million children will not benefit from the tax cut,” Rep. Jackson said.

The tax cut currently under consideration in Congress underestimates the costs of repealing the estate tax and eliminating the so-called marriage penalty, Rep. Jackson said. When those are accurately calculated, the cost of the GOP-backed tax cut will be about $2.5 trillion, he said.

Repealing estate taxes “will only benefit the top 2% of the wealthy,” Rep. Jackson said.

Acorn ended the day with a protest outside a downtown branch of Household International Inc. of Prospect Heights, Ill., which the group said engages in predatory lending.

About 400 protesters flooded the branch’s office building and many of them filled the hallways outside Household International’s door, with some people walking the 11 flights of stairs up to the office when the elevators were full. The protesters chanted: “No justice, no peace” and “Household Finance, they take your house and they take your money.”

Less than an hour after the protest began, police arrived and threatened arrest if the group did not leave. The group then left the building and boarded buses.

However, four group leaders remained and eventually spoke with J. Denis O’Toole, Household’s vice president of government relations.

“We all agree about getting rid of predatory lending. It’s just a matter of how to do it,” said Mr. O’Toole, who agreed to send Acorn’s demands to his company’s headquarters if the group puts them in writing.

Maude Hurd, the group’s national president, said Acorn held a similar demonstration last year at Ameriquest Mortgage Co.’s offices in Greenbelt, Md., that led to a meeting and commitment for the Orange, Calif., company to cease predatory lending practices. That agreement was signed in July 2000.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.