WASHINGTON - Community activists in New York have a powerful new weapon for their Community Reinvestment Act battles against banks.

New York Law School has established the Community Reinvestment Clearinghouse to advise local groups on how to research, prepare, and settle CRA protests.

"We provide technical assistance to a whole array of community organizations," clearing house director Sara Ludwig said. "We basically are a resource center for community groups that are interested in community reinvestment, particularly for those that want to use CRA as a tool."

The clearing house, formally launched Feb. 28, had been operating unofficially for several months.

Ms. Ludwig, a 1992 New York Law School graduate, brings first-hand experience to the clearing house job - she used to be a staff attorney for Inner City Press, an activist group.

She said her office will not write CRA protests but will explain what activists should include in their comments and instruct them on how to negotiate with institutions.

"We will bring them into the loop," she said, "help them understand the CRA process. Help them read the HMDA data" - a reference to reporting required of lenders under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act.

Joseph L. McCormack, a member of the Broome County CRA Coalition, said the clearing house was invaluable during the coalition's recent negotiations with Binghamton Savings Bank. The talks persuaded the bank to agree to lend $28.5 million during the next five years.

"They have been a tremendous asset," Mr. McCormack said. "I'd rate their performance and their follow-up outstanding. That's truly outstanding, not the regulators' 'outstanding.' "

The clearinghouse explained how CRA operates and gave the coalition contacts with other groups that had negotiated successful deals, he said.

Matthew Lee, executive director of the Bronx-based Inner City Press/Community on the Move, said he is impressed that the clearing house explains how to improve communities, not enrich community groups. Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato Banking committee chairman

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