COLUMBIA - Calling on data that shows black borrowers have been given higher mortgage rates than whites with the same qualifications, the South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP prepares to have its day in court.
A hearing is set for next month on a federal lawsuit filed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People on behalf of borrowers in South Carolina and across the country.
"We urge anyone who feels like they have been discriminated against to call," said Dwight James, executive director of the state NAACP. His comments came Wednesday in an event held in Columbia and cities across the country.
The purpose of the national "Day of Action" was to demand an end to what the organization perceives as discriminatory lending practices. The lawsuit names 17 of the country's major lenders as defendants, including JPMorgan Chase & Co.
"We believe we price our mortgages fairly with prices based on a borrower's financial qualifications," said Tom Kelly, a JPMorgan spokesman.
The NAACP is using data collected under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act between 2004 and 2006 to support its claims. According to that information, blacks are estimated to be between 31 percent and 34 percent more likely to be put in a higher cost mortgage than similar white borrowers.
The issue is considered especially acute in the Charleston area, which was found to have the nation's highest difference between what minorities and whites pay for mortgage loans.
That information was uncovered in a report released in July 2007 by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, a Washington-based organization that seeks to equalize access to credit and banking services. The report was based on 2005 data collected by the U.S. Federal Reserve.
Skeptics argue that such studies have flaws because of the difficult nature of making true side-by-side comparisons. Kelly noted that when JPMorgan sets mortgage rates, income, credit history, payment schedules, debts and assets are all weighed.
Still, Sue Berkowitz, director of the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, is convinced the discrepancy in lending practices is no coincidence.
"We shouldn't blame borrowers because (they're) so unsophisticated that (they're) being taken advantage of - this was a deliberate act," she said.
She cited statistics gathered by the Center for Responsible Lending that say blacks and Latinos get subprime loans at a rate of 52 and 40 percent, respectively. The rate for whites is 19 percent.
Nearly one in six subprime loans will result in a home foreclosure, she said. In Charleston County, 901 homes were foreclosed in 2005 and 2006.
"We're looking at dramatic numbers," Berkowitz said.
The lawsuit was filed in July 2007 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. In August, a judge will consider motions filed by both sides. A trial date is likely to be set at that time.