Wells Fargo, the country's
largest mortgage lender, has been accused by a minority housing advocacy group
of failing to maintain and market foreclosed properties in black and Hispanic
The National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) filed a complaint Tuesday with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The group said it looked at foreclosed homes in several metro areas and found that they were more likely to be rundown and poorly marketed in minority neighborhoods than in white ones.
Complaints range from failing to cut grass to allowing boarded up homes to decay and failing to put up "For Sale" signs.
NFHA said Wells Fargo is violating the federal Fair Housing Act, which requires banks and investors to maintain and market homes without regard to race or ethnicity.
Wells Fargo, based in San Francisco, disputed the complaint generally and said it didn't have enough information to respond to specific cases.
Tom Goyda, vice president of corporate communications for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, said the company "takes responsibility for managing property preservation for homes with loans that are within our portfolio." He added that government-backed investors such as Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, FHA and VA control two-thirds of the loans the bank services and manage foreclosed properties, as do some private investors.
"Wells Fargo conducts all lending-related activities in a fair and consistent manner without regard to race, and this includes maintenance and marketing standards for all foreclosed properties for which we are responsible," Goyda said in a statement.
Shanna Smith, president of NFHA, said she hopes HUD will "call the parties together try to work this out and begin an investigation," Smith said. "Filing this complaint with HUD will light a fire. I am sorry that this is what we have to do to get their attention."
Smith said her organization looked at eight lenders, adding Wells Fargo was the most egregious offender and is the only bank named in the complaint. She did not rule out complaints against others.
Wells Fargo services one out of every six home loans in the United States.
Washington-based NFHA, which describes itself as "the only national organization dedicated solely to ending discrimination in housing," said it looked at more than 1,000 homes in Baltimore; Dallas; Dayton, Ohio; Miami and Fort Lauderdale; Oakland; Philadelphia; Washington; and Atlanta.
NFHA partner Metro (Atlanta) Fair Housing Services examined 187 homes owned by several banks and found foreclosed homes in black neighborhoods were 4.65 times more likely than in white neighborhoods to be missing "for sale" signs. Nearly one-third of such homes in predominantly black neighborhoods had broken or unsecured doors, compared with 14 percent in mostly white areas.
Of 41 homes controlled by Wells Fargo, 63 percent in minority areas had overgrown lawns or accumulated leaves, compared to 50 percent in white areas. In addition, no home in a white neighborhood had overgrown or dead shrubs -- a problem with 43 percent of homes in black areas, mostly in Southwest Atlanta and South DeKalb.
"This is a big issue in Atlanta," said Gail Williams, executive director of Metro Fair Housing.
But Michaela Graham, who owns 14 homes in Southwest Atlanta, mostly in the Pittsburgh area, said the problem is less about race and more about economics. She said banks are less-inclined to maintain a home that has little value in a neighborhood where it could be vandalized or gutted.
"I don't think it has anything to do with white or black," said Graham, who purchased all of her homes as foreclosures. "The values are just not here."
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