A New York community group is trying to block the acquisition of New York Bancorp, alleging that the proposed buyer, North Fork Bancorp., has an "abysmal" record of lending in low-income urban communities.
Inner City Press/Community on the Move has urged state and federal banking regulators not to allow the planned $823 million purchase.
It calls North Fork's lending practices in certain New York City neighborhoods "a slightly more complex form of redlining."
Matthew Lee, an attorney and the executive director of Inner City Press, called its attack on North Fork "a full frontal assault."
Daniel Healy, chief financial officer at Melville, L.I.-based North Fork, said it would not comment publicly on the matter. North Fork's formal written response to regulators is expected to be filed by the end of January.
Regulators are expected to make a decision on the deal in the next 60 days.
According to Mr. Lee, North Fork's aggressive pattern of acquisitions over the last few years has not been matched by its marketing of credit products in poor and minority city neighborhoods.
Mr. Lee said the bank does substantial business in one- to four-family mortgages in its home base in Suffolk County. In 1996, for example, North Fork originated 566 such mortgages in Suffolk, 208 of those in areas considered low- to moderate-income.
"We find it offensive that they can buy thrifts in the city and then refuse to offer one- to four-family mortgage products there," Mr. Lee said.
North Fork has $6.8 billion of assets and 85 branches in New York and Connecticut.
The acquisition of $3.3 billion-asset New York Bancorp, and its principal operating subsidiary Home Federal Savings Bank, would bring an additional 31 branches in Brooklyn, which is new territory for North Fork. New York Bancorp is based in Douglaston, N.Y.
North Fork has said it plans to close seven branches and lay off 300 people after the merger, which is scheduled to be completed by the end of the first quarter.
Inner City Press said North Fork has already demonstrated a poor record of lending in low-income communities in Queens, where it currently has 13 branches.
Inner City Press has alleged that North Fork made no one- to four-family mortgage loans in low- or moderate-income census areas in Queens during 1997.
The bank originated nine such loans in 1996, even though 15.5% of its $4.6 billion of deposits comes from the area.
Mr. Lee said the Community Reinvestment Act, which gives banks guidelines on lending in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods, requires that all of a bank's credit products be available to all of its depositors.
Four regulatory agencies are reviewing North Fork's acquisition plans: the New York State Banking Department, the Federal Reserve Board, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., and the Office of Thrift Supervision.