WASHINGTON -- A key banking regulator attacked the anti.discrimination agreement that the Mortgage Bankers Association and the department of Housing and Urban Development signed formally on Wednesday.
Federal Reserve Board Governor Lawrence Lindsey expressed concern that HUD had protnised mortgage bankers they would not be brought under Community Reinvestment Act standards in exchange for signing the accord.
"It's a bad deal from the govemment's point of view," Mr. Lindsey said.
"I think some leveling of the playing field to include the mortgage bankers [under CRA] is appropriate," Mr. Lindsey said. "If the HUD initiative is getting in the way of that, I would be concerned."
In brief comments after the signing ceremony, HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros said the agency had made "no deal" of the sort.
"Further law and further regulation is an independent issue," added MBA president Stephen B. Ashley.
Mortgage bankers, unlike depository institutions, are not covered by the Community Reinvestment Act.
But as their market share has grown, pressure has mounted in Congress and among consumer groups and bank lobbyists to put mortgage banks under the same system of CRA regulations as banks and thrifts.
Key officials at the Department of the Treasury have also voiced support for bringing nonbanks under CRA.
On Sept. 21, Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy 2d, D-Mass. will hold a heating on the issue.
Anxious to fend off tighter regulation, MBA is pitching the accord to its members as a way to avoid coming under CRA standards.
Mr. Ashley said the trade group would "actively encourage" its members to sign the "best practices" agreement with HUD.
These agreements would lay out marketing and hiring practices designed to boost minorityand low-income lending, as well as specific numerical targets for such loans.
Countrywide Funding Corp., the nation's largest mortgage lender, has already signed such an agreement.
Countrywide says it will increase its purchase loans in 1995 to minority and low4ncome borrowers by 5% over the 1993 level.
But the agreements do not have the force of law, and cannot be enforced by HUD.
Mr. Lindsey warned however that the agreements could not be "a safe haven" from other regulatory agencies.
And that information collected by HUD could be used under other enforcement actions.
"If a government agency has data, and the Justice department and regulator [want it], I certainly don't see how they couldn't have access," Mr. Lindsey remarked.
The agreement came after months of intense negotiation between HUD and the MBA, the only trade group that has shown interest in a "best practices" agreement.
Banking trade groups are bitterly opposed to the concept, and fear they will now face heightened pressure from HUD to enter similar agreements.
Asked if she expects other trade groups to sign on, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing Roberta Achtenberg said simply, "We'll see."
The MBA accord faced spirited debate within the trade group as well.
In recent weeks. bank-affiliated mortgage bankers, backed by bank trade groups, had voiced serious concerns about it.