WASHINGTON -- Community reinvestment makes strange bedfellows.
That became clear last week when 22 New York-based community groups signed a letter supporting Dime Bancorp in a Community Reinvestment Act battle.
Dime, which wants to acquire-Anchor Savings Bank, is fighting the Bronx-based Inner City Press/Community on the Move, which claims the thrift only targets the more affluent sections of the borough.
Both parties will air their case next week before the Office of Thrift Supervision in Jersey City, N.J.
The community groups said in their Nov. 14 letter that Dime and Anchor have a "long and positive" history of supporting the community. They also wrote that Dime is one of the top community development lenders in New York.
"We support the merger application and believe it will strengthen and enhance the future contribution of two institutions that have played a significant and positive role in the economic and residential redevelopment of low and moderate income communities," they wrote.
Inner City Press executive director Matthew Lee discounted the letter, saying the 22 groups rely on lending from Dime and other banks for their projects.
"I don't think most of these groups have read the challenge or know what we are saying," Mr. Lee said. "It is unfortunate, It puts us in a bad light."
Kathryn Wylde of the New York City Housing Partnership, which put together the letter, admitted she hadn't read the complaint and that the groups do work with Dime.
"I don't want to be at War with anybody," said Richard D. Parsons, Dime's chairman and chief executive officer. "In a war everybody loses. Our bank has always worked cooperatively with the community."
Mr. Parsons said he understands Inner City Press's position, and added that he respects Mr. Lee's goals of rebuilding the Bronx. However, he said their protest is, "an abuse of the process, and I think that is what other community groups are concerned about." Allen Fishbein, general counsel to the Center for Community Change, said neighborhood groups and development organization often split paths.
"I think it is an inevitable outgrowth of the fact that banks are more active then they were a number of years ago," Mr. Fishbein said.
That growth means some groups are working with banks while others want institutions to pour resources into their neighborhoods, Mr. Fishbein said.
Mr. Parsons stressed that Mr. Lee's group had not asked for financial support before filing the protest. In fact, the group rejected the .Dime's offer to channel to the South Bronx loans worth $15 million over three years.
Mr. Lee told Dime he did not want to accept those terms because he was afraid the thrift would then ignore the other points he raised in the protest, said Lawrence J. Toal, Dime's president and chief operating officer.
Regulators need to weigh the bank's overall efforts, Mr. Fishbein said.
Dime now has no branches in the Bronx. One percent of the Dime's deposits come from the Bronx, but 4% of its loans go to the borough. Anchor now has one Bronx branch.
The Bronx will be part of the combined company's service area, Mr. Parsons said. The merged banks' business plan calls for it to open at least one new banking facility in the Bronx, and Dime officials have been looking at potential sites, some suggested by Mr. Lee.