Magazine article American Banker

As Ethics Watchdogs Sleep, HUD Signs Up Bias 'Testers.' (Housing and Urban Development) (Column)

Magazine article American Banker

As Ethics Watchdogs Sleep, HUD Signs Up Bias 'Testers.' (Housing and Urban Development) (Column)

Article excerpt

The Clinton administration's crusade against racial bias by mortgage lenders will not be slowed down by inconsequential matters like ethics.

A case in point is the $1 million contract that Henry Cisneros and the Department of Housing and Urban Development recently awarded to the nonprofit National Fair Housing Alliance to "test" bankers for bias in three cities over a 13-month period.

At the same time the alliance's scalp hunters are masquerading as minority loan applicants on behalf of HUD, the organization is hawking an educational program to banks and other mortgage lenders so they can avoid bias suits.

A Blind Eye

In fact, the alliance announced last week that it was on the verge of signing a nationwide contract with Sears Mortgage to purge its operations of biased underwriting standards and train the troops to be even handed. (I would bet the farm that Sears Mortgage has locations in all three cities targeted by the HUD investigation.)

For some peculiar reason, the ethics police at HUD didn't view this arrangement as the blatant conflict of interest that it is.

HUD's response, when I brought the situation to their attention last week, was to feign ignorance and confusion. (At least, I hope they were feigning.)

A double-assistant something-or-other in Roberta Achtenberg's office (she's the assistant secretary for fair housing and equal opportunity) said HUD had no idea that the alliance was playing for both the offense and the defense.

Shanna Smith, director of programs for the alliance, told me later that her group had been talking to Sears for nearly eight months and that she had told the HUD-ites all about it.

Minor Details

Perhaps their memories are being affected by this town's obscene August humidity.

Or may be, since the mandate for the holy war on mortgage bias emanated from Mr. Cisneros and Ms. Achtenberg, the foot soldiers are not focusing on petty details like prohibiting the testers from working for mortgage companies too. …

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