By Charlene Crowell
It is ironic that April is Fair Housing Month and the U.S. Senate has yet to schedule a vote on the nomination of the first Black woman to become the nation’s Attorney General. Nominated on November 14, the nomination of Loretta Lynch has lingered longer than the seven previous attorneys generals combined.
The delay is even more disturbing because Lynch was previously and unanimously approved by the Senate – twice – to serve as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. Representing the interests of 8 million people residing in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island, Lynch won a number of Wall Street financial fraud cases.
That kind of leadership and experience would rightfully continue the fights for fair housing and a stop to predatory lending. As with any organization, the tone is set at the top. At the Department of Justice (DOJ), the successor to outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder will determine whether aggressive enforcement of laws designed to provide equal access to housing and credit will be sustained.
In 2015, 47 years since passage of the Fair Housing Act, DOJ’s actions prove we are still seeking justice in housing – especially in instances where consumers of color have been denied fair and equal treatment under the law.
Since 2010, according to Vanita Gupta, Acting Assistant Attorney General, DOJ’s Civil Rights Division has reached settlements in 18 lawsuits charging discrimination in mortgage lending, pricing discrimination, racial steering and redlining affecting both large and small numbers of consumers. These cases have been as large as the $335 million settlement with Countrywide that brought a measure of justice for 200,000 borrowers who were targets of discrimination and shared $335 million in relief. Wells Fargo, one of the nation’s largest banks, paid more than $184 million to thousands of victims of steering and pricing.
Other actions have affected far fewer victims, but still led to monetary compensation. For example, eight Brooklyn families who were sold homes at inflated prices by a developer, United Homes, shared a $1 million settlement.
In addition, HUD officials advise that in FY 2014, its Fair Housing Assistance Program partner agencies received 8,468 complaints alleging discrimination based on one or more of the Fair Housing Act’s seven protected classes: race, color, national origin, religion, gender, family status, and disability. Enforcement actions resulted in almost $33 million in compensation for victims and victims’ funds. The two top reasons cited in these complaints were disability and race. The combined fair housing efforts of DOJ and HUD have forced substantial settlements for those who have violated the law.
Even so, more housing litigation is pending. For example, in November 2014 the National Fair Housing Alliance, a consortium of more than 220 private, nonprofit fair housing organizations throughout the nation, expanded a racial discrimination complaint filed against U.S. Bank. The original lawsuit, filed in 2012, alleged multiple fair housing violations in the neglect of bank-owned foreclosures in communities of color. The amended complaint now adds the cities of Cleveland, Columbus, Grand Rapids, Kansas City, Minneapolis, and Muskegon to those already filed for Atlanta, Baltimore, Denver, Dallas, Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, Memphis, Milwaukee and other locales.
With these and other housing issues, it is inexcusable for the Senate to delay a floor vote on the Lynch nomination. The upper chamber has a constitutional duty to ‘advice and consent’. Fortunately, a few members of the majority have indicated their commitment to vote for the delayed nominee.
On February 26, the day that the Senate Judiciary Committee voted on the Lynch nomination, its former chair and longest-serving member, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said, “The case against her nomination, as far as I can tell, essentially ignores her professional career and focuses solely on about six hours that she spent before this committee on January 28. I do not believe that is a proper way to evaluate any nominee’s fitness for any position.”
Mike Calhoun, president of the Center for Responsible Lending agreed adding, “Lynch has impeccable credentials, distinguished experience, and her values have shown she is committed to independent and fair application and enforcement of our laws, and in particular, protecting working American families from economic and consumer violations of our protections. It’s time for this to end and for this extraordinary candidate to be confirmed.”
Loretta Lynch and the nation are waiting – still.
Charlene Crowell is a communications manager with the Center for Responsible Lending. She can be reached at Charlene.firstname.lastname@example.org.