L.A. Sues JPMorgan Chase For Pushing Minorities Into Cruddy Mortgages

After filing similar suits against Well Fargo, Citi, and Bank of America, the city of Los Angeles is now going after JPMorgan Chase for allegedly pushing minority loan applicants into riskier and less-affordable mortgages than they were eligible for.

The complaint [PDF], filed this morning in a federal court, alleges that Chase “has engaged in a continuous pattern and practice of mortgage discrimination in Los Angeles since at least 2004 by imposing different terms or conditions on a discriminatory and legally prohibited basis.”

These sorts of allegations have dogged many of the nation’s largest lenders since we first reported on the practice back in 2008. These banks have been accused of systematically steering minority applicants into subprime loans that were not generally offered to white loan applicants.

This process is known as redlining, wherein banks deny credits based on an applicant’s particular neighborhood or race; or reverse-redlining, in which lenders target certain neighborhoods and racial groups with subprime financial products.

“JPMorgan engaged in redlining, and continues to engage in said conduct, by refusing to extend mortgage credit to minority borrowers in Los Angeles on equal terms as offered to non-minority borrowers,” reads the complaint. “JPMorgan engaged in reverse redlining, and continues to engage in said conduct, by extending mortgage credit on predatory terms to minority borrowers in minority neighborhoods in Los Angeles on the basis of the race or ethnicity of its residents.”

The complaint includes statements from whistle-blowers with information on Chase’s redlining practices.

“If you wanted to target the Hispanic community you had to have certain words in there that you’d want to use to attract [the borrowers],” reads one statement, which adds that it was easier to get minority applicants approved for adjustable-rate loans but that loan officers did not always explain the repercussions of what happens when that sweetheart 1% APR starts to take off like a rocket a few years into the loan.

“That’s where a lot of clients were misled,” continues the statement. “They thought it was a 1 percent fixed [rate].”

When the cost of adjustable-rate loans jumped in 2007-2008, these borrowers were no longer able to afford their homes and many were lost to foreclosure. This drove housing prices down.

This rash of foreclosures — which the city contends could have been prevented had these borrowers received loans they deserved — resulted in a loss of property tax revenue for the city. The city cites one report claiming that there were 200,000 foreclosures in Los Angeles from 2008 through 2012, resulting in a $481 million loss of city property tax revenue.

“L.A. continues to suffer from the foreclosure crisis — from blight in our neighborhoods to diminished revenue for basic City services,” L.A. City Atty. Mike Feuer said in a statement. “We’re fighting to hold those we allege are responsible to account and to help bring back every community in our City.”

The lawsuit also alleges that Chase has failed to live up to its obligations post-recession.

“JPMorgan has induced foreclosures since 2009 by failing to extend branch support to minority neighborhoods, pulling existing Bank support from minority neighborhoods, declining to offer refinancings or loan modifications to minority customers on fair terms, and otherwise denying minority borrowers equal access to fair credit,” reads the complaint.

Chase denies the allegations and says it intends to fight the city’s complaint.

“We are disappointed the L.A. City Attorney is pursuing an adversarial approach to address city finances impacted by the recent economic downturn,” reads a statement from Chase to the L.A. Times. “While the downturn was beyond our control, we will continue to partner with Los Angeles in the recovery.”

The city’s suits against Wells Fargo, Citigroup, and Bank of America are still pending, and the banks all deny any wrongdoing.

However, Wells Fargo did reach a $175 million settlement with the Justice Dept. in 2012 over similar allegations, and Bank of America settled for almost double that amount in 2011.

And last fall Wells agreed to pay out nearly $40 million to settle allegations made by the National Fair Housing Alliance and the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development that it neglected bank-owned homes in minority neighborhoods.