Bank of America's Lending Practices -->
Florida activist Al Pina has launched a community campaign against Bank of America over its minority-lending record and practices.
Pina, founder and chairman of the Florida Minority Community Reinvestment Coalition, is staging a hunger strike in protest of what he views to be Bank of America's lack of transparency toward low-income minorities.
He said the bank has a high rate of foreclosures, rising credit-card interest rates and a failure to increase credit for struggling businesses -- all while accepting billions in federal bailout money.
The FMCRC believes the bank's practices violate the spirit of the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977, which was passed to prevent banks from denying loans to people in underserved areas -- a practice known as "redlining."
A bank spokesperson disputes many of the group's charges, insisting, for instance, that Bank of America has received six consecutive "outstanding" Community Reinvestment Act ratings.
Bank of America is the last of the three big banks in Florida that Pina considers unwilling to accept rules of transparency. Since the beginning of 2009, the other two -- Washington Mutual and Wachovia -- have been bought out by Chase bank and Wells Fargo, respectively.
The FMCRC and its supporters are trying to steer minority customers in Florida away from Bank of America and towards Wells Fargo, and in May launched a campaign titled "Wells Fargo YES-Bank of America NO."
Bank of America, however, insists that its record on minority lending practices is commendable.
In a statement to HispanicBusiness.com, Mike Fields, head of Bank of America in Florida, said the bank has an admirable record, despite the FMCRC's claims.
"Bank of America is acutely aware of the needs of minority and low-income communities in Florida and nationwide," he wrote. " In 2005, Bank of America began delivering on its $750 billion community development lending and investment goal. During the first four years, Bank of America delivered more than $35.7 billion in community development lending and investments into low and moderate income and minority communities in Florida."
Florida's Bank of America does give a significantly high percentage to white-run non-profit organizations that help minorities, but the FMCRC says accessibility and transparency are still among the biggest problems related to Bank of America.
For instance, Pina said this spring he met in person with the top executives of both banks. At Chase, that was the top executive, Chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon; at Wells Fargo, it was Florida President Shelley Freeman.
Both agreed to allow FCRMC to review bank information once a year so his organization can monitor minority-lending practices. By comparison, Pina said, it took the threat of a hunger strike to persuade Bank of America into granting him a meeting with the Florida leader, Mike Fields, who met with him on June 11.
Despite the meeting, he said, BofA still won't agree to apply the same level of transparency as other institutions have.
In addition, Pina insists that Bank of America's record on sub-prime mortgages is much worse than that of Wells Fargo and that 65 percent of home loans given to Florida minorities by Bank of America for 2005-06 were sub-prime. The corresponding figure for Wells Fargo Mortgage -- which, unlike Wells Fargo Bank, has been in Florida for years -- is only 2 or 3 percent, he said, adding that he has obtained these figures from the banks' public reports, whose filings are mandated by the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act.
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