WASHINGTON -- Fairhousing advocates seized on new lending data released Wednesday as proof that the Department of Justice should continue investigating lending practices at banks.
The 1993 Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data showed that black loan applicants remained more than twice as likely as whites to be rejected for housing loans -- a figure that has remained essentially unchanged since the agencies began publishing the data in 1991.
"Denial rates are still twice that of other groups," said House Banking Committee Chairman Henry B. GonZalez, D-Tex. "This is why the Justice Department's aggressive tactics- are welcomed by victims and feared by lenders."
"What this data says is that Justice needs to continue enforcing the law and ferreting out fair-lending violations," said John Taylor, president of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition.
Richard Ritter, a former prosecutor and now a fair-housing consultant to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, agreed, saying the lack of substantial change in rejection rates shows that the time to debate the Justice Department's role is over. "It heightens the urgency for the regulators to at least listen to what the Department of Justice is doing," Mr. Ritter said.
Banking advocates, however, interpreted the data differently.
"There have been groups out there putting an undue weight on HMDA," American Bankers Association spokeswoman Virginia Stafford said. "So it doesn't surprise me that they would say that."
She said HMDA data do not prove that financial institutions discriminate, because they don't explain the reason for rejections. "It is a flawed. measure," Ms. Stafford said.
Diane Casey, executive director of the Independent Bankers Association of America, said the numbers don't reflect the tremendous outreach programs that many institutions have undertaken to attract minority loan applicants.
"It does indicate something you need to look at," Ms. Casey said. "But, it doesn't indicate discrimination. You need more information for that."
Allen J. Fishbein, general counsel to the Center for Community Change, agreed that the national HMDA numbers have limited uses.
"The real value is comparing the data of individual local lenders," Mr. Fishbein said.
The study, released in preliminary form in July, found that financial institutions reject loan applications from blacks 34% of the time while rejecting whites only 15.3% of the time.
Native Americans and Hispanics hold the second- and third-highest rejection rates. Asians and Pacific Islanders took had the lowest rejection rate, followed closely by white applicants.
The findings closely mirror last year's results, though several groups did improve their standing modestly. For example, the rejection rate for blacks fell from 35.9% to 34% and for Hispanics from 27.3% to 25.1%.
The report also found that as individual incomes rise, loan rejection disparities become smaller. Still, black appliCants with the highest incomes in their communities were twice as likely to be rejected for a home loan than a white applicant of similar income.
The Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council, which compiles the information, reviewed nearly 36,000 disclosure statements from 9,650 lenders, of which more than half were commercial banks. The rest of the institutions included savings banks, credit unions, and mortgage companies.