Community Reinvestment Act

Community Reinvestment Act

The Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) has been critical to the expansion of responsible credit for low- and moderate-income borrowers since its passage in 1977. Designed to address low levels of lending activity in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods, it has helped spur a growing range of successful affordable loan programs that reduce credit access barriers. CRA expands the overall efficiency of the banking system by incentivizing banks to tap profit opportunities in underserved markets.

The Community Reinvestment Act ensures that banks make resources available to low-income or otherwise disadvantaged communities by offering “equal access to lending, investment and services to all those in an institution's geographic assessment area-at least three to five miles from each branch. In the case of large banks with many branches, the geographic area may encompass an entire county or even a state.” This policy was created as a direct response to “redlining”, a discriminatory practice used by bankers to avoid making loans to people of color or lower-income areas.

Cry Wolf Quotes

In 1989, sympathetic members of Congress got the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act amended to force banks to collect racial data on mortgage applicants; this allowed various studies to be ginned up that seemed to validate the original accusation… bank regulators required the loosened underwriting standards, with approval by politicians and the chattering class. A 1995 strengthening of the Community Reinvestment Act required banks to find ways to provide mortgages to their poorer communities. It also let community activists intervene at yearly bank reviews, shaking the banks down for large pots of money.

-
Stan Liebovitz, New York Post.

…the government has used regulatory and political pressure to force banks and other government-controlled or regulated private entities to make loans they would not otherwise make and to reduce lending standards so more applicants would have access to mortgage financing… the CRA was used to pressure banks into making loans they would not otherwise have made and to adopt looser lending standards that would make mortgage loans possible for individuals who could not meet the down payment and other standards that had previously been applied routinely by banks and other housing lenders... a law that was originally intended to encourage banks to use safe and sound practices in lending now required them to be innovative and flexible--a clear requirement for the relaxation of lending standards.

-
Peter Wallison, AEI Online

There’s little doubt that the rating agencies helped inflate the housing bubble. But when we round up all the culprits, we shouldn’t ignore the regulators and affordable-housing advocates who pushed lenders to make loans in low-income neighborhoods for reasons other than the only one that makes sense: likely repayment… in 1995 the Clinton administration added tough new regulations. The federal government required banks that wanted 'outstanding' ratings under the act to demonstrate, numerically, that they were lending both in poor neighborhoods and to lower-income households. Banks were now being judged not on how their loans performed but on how many such loans they made. This undermined the regulatory emphasis on safety and soundness.

-
Howard Husock, New York Times.

The CRA, by encouraging loosening underwriting standards, may have contributed to the massive increase in foreclosure rates.

-
Michelle Minton, Competitive Enterprise Institute

Evidence

Backgrounders & Briefs

Good Rules: Ten Stories Of Successful Regulation

Demos looks at ten laws and rules that we take for granted.

Community Reinvestment Act Policy Brief

By Philip Ashton, UIC

The Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) has been critical to the expansion of responsible credit for low- and moderate-income borrowers since its passage in 1977.