WASHINGTON - NationsBank Corp. unveiled a no-down-payment, no- closing-cost mortgage program Monday that bankers and activists said could become the new standard for community reinvestment.
The five-year, $500 million program will focus on low-income borrowers, who will receive pre-purchase and post-purchase credit counseling from the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America.
"It is a very, very important arrow in our quiver," said Catherine Bessant, a senior vice president at NationsBank. "We are genuinely, to the core, fired up by it. This extends the market of people we can reach."
The announcement comes just three months after a civil rights group sued NationsBank for discriminating against minority loan applicants in the Washington, D.C., area. The bank has vowed to fight the charges.
NationsBank's commitment dwarfs similar programs offered by other banks in both size and scope, said Bruce Marks, executive director of the Boston- based neighborhood assistance group.
"This is the biggest deal in banking history when it comes to community reinvestment," Mr. Marks said. "There will be over 10,000 new homeowners who will stabilize communities across the country."
Mr. Marks said his group has operated a smaller program with several Boston-area banks since 1988, putting together 1,000 loans without a single foreclosure or default.
The program - scheduled to start in Washington, D.C.; Baltimore, Atlanta, and NationsBank's hometown of Charlotte, N.C. - will allow borrowers to receive a no-closing-cost, no-down-payment mortgage at 38 to 50 basis points above the retail rate. The bank agreed to lower the rate by 25 basis points for each 1% the borrower puts down.
NationsBank said it will not reject applicants who frequently switch jobs, provided they maintain a steady income. The bank also said borrowers must have good repayment track records. For example, to qualify for the program, a borrower may be only 60 days late on one credit card bill over the last 12 months.
The bank will not require the borrowers to buy private mortgage insurance. But they must contribute to a neighborhood stabilization fund, which they can tap if they are laid off or suffer a calamity that could cause them to default. Neighborhood committees would allocate the funds, allowing residents to draw up to three mortgage payments from the pool.
The mortgage program grew out of a meeting NationsBank chairman Hugh McColl and Mr. Marks had in October.
"Hugh McColl is certainly someone who wanted to work with us and find initiatives that benefit low- and moderate-income communities," Mr. Marks said. "This is the result."
Mr. Marks, a dogged activist who is challenging Chemical Bank's $10 billion combination with Chase Manhattan Bank, said he expects the merged New York bank to enact a similar program. "This will set the standard for the country," he said.
John Taylor, president of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, agreed that the deal "pushes the envelope."
"It is structured to really put homeownership in the hands of poor people," Mr. Taylor said. "It is not a reworking of a middle-class loan program."