Responding to housing advocates, HSBC Bank USA Inc. agreed on Friday to double its Community Reinvestment Act lending and investment in the New York City area by 2004.

"Our goal will be to double our CRA activity," HSBC Bank USA president and chief executive officer Malcolm Burnett wrote in a letter to the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development Inc., a consortium of more than 80 community groups in New York City.

"Over the next five years, we expect to double our mortgage, small-business, and community development lending in the low- to moderate-income areas within metro New York," he added.

The consortium pressed for the promise after HSBC's London-based parent, HSBC Holdings PLC, announced in May it would buy both Republic New York Corp. and Luxembourg-based Safra Republic Holdings SA. The $10.3 billion deal is expected to close in the fourth quarter.

The letter does not put a dollar figure on HSBC's commitment, and a spokeswoman for the bank declined to comment. However, based on figures the bank gave the Federal Reserve Bank of New York last month, it appears HSBC's target would be about $1.45 billion. According to that July 14 filing, Republic's lead U.S. unit, Republic National Bank, is currently committed to roughly $300 million of CRA loans and investments and Buffalo-based HSBC to $426 million.

HSBC and Republic officials met with the consortium's leaders on Aug. 11. The meeting was held after community advocates told the New York Fed that they are concerned Republic's reinvestment activities would be reduced after the merger.

"A lot of concerns raised were fairly addressed by the bank," said Irene Baldwin, executive director of the neighborhood consortium.

Republic is active in community development in New York City; HSBC concentrates its efforts in upstate New York, she added. As of June 30, HSBC Bank USA had $34.3 billion of assets, and Republic had $51.2 billion.

The agreement shows there is "a process where community groups and community leaders in New York City can actively participate and work with the bank in discussing what products and CRA plans they have and evaluate them,'' Ms. Baldwin said.

Republic's senior vice president of community development, Phyllis Rosenblum, said the banks differ in their lending activities and she expects both practices will continue. Republic typically makes mortgages for residents of publicly subsidized housing, she added, and HSBC is often involved in financing construction.

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