According to reports, the National Fair Housing Alliance and several of its member organizations (collectively NFHA) indicated this week that they plan to take legal action against multiple financial institutions for alleged discriminatory practices with regard to real estate owned (REO) properties in violation of the Fair Housing Act. The NFHA promised that it will file administrative complaints with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and/or legal complaints in federal courts. The first such complaint could be filed as early as next week. The anticipated complaints will be based on the results of an investigation conducted by the NFHA concerning the practices of several lenders and investors responsible for maintaining and marketing REO properties in African-American and Latino neighborhoods.
According to a report that was released on April 4, the investigation covered more than 1,000 REO properties in nine metropolitan areas including Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Dayton, Miami/Fort Lauderdale, Oakland, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Washington, DC. The investigation claims to have revealed that, among other things, REO properties in predominantly minority neighborhoods are 42 percent more likely to have maintenance problems and are 33 percent less likely to have a “For Sale” sign than properties in predominantly White neighborhoods. The report suggests that the poor maintenance practices and other alleged neglect can result in properties being vacant for longer periods and can increase the likelihood that a property eventually will be purchased by an investor at a discounted price, as opposed to an owner-occupier. NFHA maintains that these alleged practices violate the Fair Housing Act and HUD’s implementing regulations and leave those neighborhoods in “crisis.” The NFHA report also makes several policy recommendations. The report offers recommendations for financial institutions to (i) enhance their vendor selection and oversight, (ii) better market and sell properties, and (iii) make REO data more transparent. The NFHA also (i) urges federal regulators, including the CFPB, to conduct a major nationwide investigation into REO practices, (ii) proposes a policy to make REO properties available exclusively to owner-occupants and non-profit organizations prior to offering them more broadly, and (iii) suggests further development of lease-purchase programs for REO properties.