Racial disparities found in distributing high-cost loans

Report says minorities more likely to have higher rates to buy or refinance houses

In the region

November 18, 2005|By CHRISTOPHER STOLLAR | CHRISTOPHER STOLLAR,CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- When Mary Myers bought her three-bedroom Baltimore home in 2001, she didn't know it would be auctioned off only four years later.

But the 72-year-old great-grandmother of 14 had a 30-year fixed rate loan with an annual percentage rate that was almost three points higher than the treasury rate of 5.52 percent at the time - officially making it a high-cost loan.

In Maryland, minority members such as Myers were more prone than whites to receive such expensive loans when buying a home or refinancing, according to a new report by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, a community organization of low- and moderate-income families.

African-American homebuyers in Towson and Baltimore were 4.4 times more likely than whites to get high-cost loans, and Latinos were 2.3 times more likely - a striking disparity that ACORN said could decrease their credit scores and make them prone to predatory lending, abusive loan terms and unfair pricing.

The difference was even more alarming in Bethesda, Frederick and Gaithersburg. Latino homebuyers were five times more likely than whites to receive high-cost loans, and African-Americans were 4.4 times more prone.

Nationally, both Latinos and African-Americans were put at a disadvantage when refinancing or buying homes with such loans that increased from $35 billion in 1994 to more than $530 billion in 2004, according to the Mortgage Market Statistical Annual Report.

"Minorities are at the greatest risk," said Valerie Coffin, ACORN's director of fair housing. "The thing that's important to remember is the difference of a $100 a month is much greater for low-income people than if they had a $500,000 loan. Those kinds of differences ... have a big impact on the life of the actual borrower."

The impact on Myers was that she lost her home. She started by paying Wells Fargo about $927 each month the first year, $1,014 the next and $1,109 most recently, according to her mortgage records.

Myers expected to pay about $1,200 in January - more than half of her monthly income from Social Security and state retirement funds.

That's a bill she just couldn't afford. The two-story house on Richwood Avenue was put up for auction Nov. 4, and Myers has until next month to find a new place to live.

"I want to keep my home," she said. But "my rates kept going up. When I go to [Wells Fargo] for help, they do anything but help me."

Employees at the bank in Lutherville either declined to comment or did not return repeated phone calls, but Michelle Bigelow, a Wells Fargo customer service representative, said many people fail to realize that their taxes and insurance will rise, boosting their monthly bills.

"This is something we deal with every day," Bigelow said. "It happens to practically every homeowner. Not every house goes into foreclosure, but if you don't handle the ... shortage, most of the time you will see an increase."

But not by about $100 every year, said Al Ingraham, president of the Maryland Association of Realtors.

"I've never known a person to have that kind of an adjustment," Ingraham said. "We have a horrible problem with people who fall into this category of predatory lenders. This may well be an example of that. She thought she'd be getting one thing, but is not."

Myers is not alone.

"Unfortunately, we hear stories about this a lot," said Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition Director Cheryl Hystad. "People are promised a certain rate, and then it's higher."

Sometimes too high.

"I worked hard to get in here," said Myers, who doesn't know where she will live now. But "I put it in God's hands."

Christopher Stollar is a reporter for Capital News Service

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