A patchwork coalition called New Yorkers for Responsible Lending has taken its campaign against predatory lending right to the heads of the state's legislative banking committees.
Representatives of the still-forming group of activists, development foundations, and others met Tuesday with state Sen. George D. Maziarz, chairman of the Senate Committee on Aging, and Assemblywoman Aurelia Greene, chairwoman of the Assembly Banking Committee. After hearing the coalition's case for a Responsible Lending Act, both committee heads pledged to review their proposals and consider including them in a formal bill this legislative session, people who attended the meetings said.
Among other things, New Yorkers for Responsible Lending seeks to curb high-cost loans, those it defines as having an annual percentage rate higher than 5% above Treasury or points and fees exceeding 5% of the loan amount. They maintain that a rule implemented last year by the New York Banking Department to de-license abusive brokers and lenders gives no recourse to borrowers facing foreclosure.
Coalition member Bill Ferris, New York legislative representative with the American Association of Retired Persons, said the AARP has launched a grass-roots campaign through its 180 chapters in the state, which have about 2.5 million members, to get legislators behind their cause.
"Passing a predatory lending bill prohibiting certain practices in New York is a top priority of the AARP in New York, and banning predatory practices in the subprime market is a national priority of AARP," Mr. Ferris said. "We are going to make every effort to pass this coalition bill that AARP helped draft."
The lending industry has taken steps recently in the face of a tide of regulatory efforts concentrated on this issue. At a forum held in Dallas with express purpose of making a battle plan, the Mortgage Bankers Association argued that a mishmash of local laws would create chaos for lenders that operate in several states. The issue should be dealt with on the federal level either through one bill or enforcement of existing regulations, the group says.
Members of New Yorkers for Responsible Lending counter that, while an act of Congress would help, nothing in Washington is even close to approval, and many elderly, lower-income, rural, and minority borrowers need help right away.
Federal action is "definitely an option" but "we cannot wait on the federal government to do something," Mr. Ferris said. "I think the problem is that urgent, and we need to act now in New York to pass state legislation."
He cited an AARP study finding that 78% of older Americans are homeowners, and of this group, 80% own their homes free and clear. And because many of these owners seek home improvement or home equity loans, they have become a target for unscrupulous lenders, he said.
Sarah Ludwig, executive director of the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project, scoffed at the lending lobby's complaint about having to deal with a jumble of state and local laws; it wants no regulation at all, she said.
"I don't see them running to Congress to get a federal bill passed, which means we don't have a strong prospect of getting federal legislation in the immediate future," Ms. Ludwig said. "At the same time, we have a very serious problem that urgently needs to be addressed."
The roughly 70 groups that make up New Yorkers for Responsible Lending are meeting with lenders to drum up support for anti-predator legislation. On Monday representatives met with officials of Chase Manhattan Mortgage.
Mark Willis, executive vice president for the Chase Community Development Group, an arm of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., said: "We had an open conversation on the topic, and we look forward to continuing to talk with people who have a concern about predatory lending, which is a very legitimate issue. It's a very important issue for us."
Both New York legislative members have pledged to put predatory lending on top of their legislative agendas this year, according to those who attended the meetings. Though at this point they only have a proposal, members of the coalition are optimistic about their chances of getting some form of their goals signed into law.