In one of the most comprehensive reviews of its kind, a fair-housing group released a study Tuesday showing that minorities are discriminated against when they inquire for mortgages.
The Fair Housing Council of Greater Washington found that in 41% of 150 tests minority group members shopping for a loan were treated differently than white potential borrowers.
Of the 70 lenders tested, the group found 26 instances in which minority group members got a lower level of service, 20 in which they had greater difficulty scheduling appointments, and 15 in which lenders tried to discourage the loan application.
The council found 24 other instances of bias. For example, a lender required a black tester to consent to having a credit report pulled before a meeting but did not make a similar demand of a white tester.
"The nature of racism has changed," said David Berenbaum, the group's executive director. "Rather than being blatant discrimination, what we have documented is subtle forms of discrimination."
The results are based on matched-pair testing. The group sent three teams of matched pairsto 40 of the most active lenders to apply for loans between August and February. Two teams consisted of a white and a black tester with similar incomes and credit histories. The other team consisted of a white and an Hispanic tester. The remaining 30 lenders were only tested once.
Mr. Berenbaum would not name the institutions the group claims discriminated. Discrimination was so rampant at six lenders that the group plans to file fair-lending complaints against them with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, he said.
Comptroller of the Currency Eugene A. Ludwig said his agency plans to review the group's findings, calling them "troubling."
Industry officials reacted cautiously to the report.
"Any time you see concerns about disparate treatment, it is upsetting," said Judith E. Knight, director of housing and community development at the American Bankers Association. "But the good news is that the majority of financial institutions approached by the testing demonstrated they were doing the right thing."
Ms. Knight also said she had some concerns about the study's methodology. Normally, testers visit the same loan officer to eliminate the chance that differences in selling styles would affect the test. But in this study, the testers did not always visit the same loan officer.