Banks Sue Regulators Over Anti-Redlining Rule


Some of the banking industry’s most powerful trade groups sued the Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency on Monday, claiming that the regulators overstepped their authority in updating a law meant to reverse the effects of redlining.

In October, the regulators imposed new frameworks for assessing whether banks are abiding by the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act, which requires banks to do business in neighborhoods made up largely of racial minorities or low-income households that they typically shunned.

The lawsuit said the rule was “a complicated and burdensome regime” and might “ultimately result in reduced lending to the very populations that the C.R.A. was designed to benefit.”

The suit was filed by the American Bankers Association, the Independent Community Bankers of America and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, trade groups that represent virtually all U.S. banks. Several Texas groups joined as plaintiffs, allowing the Washington-based groups to sue in federal court in that state, where they have already won favorable rulings against the regulators.

In a statement, the president of the Independent Community Bankers of America, Rebeca Romero Rainey, said that the group had “clearly laid out our position and concerns” during the comment period required before regulators adopt new rules, but that its warnings appeared to have had little effect on the final version of the rule.

Banks said they did not oppose the anti-redlining law itself, just its latest iteration. The 1977 law does not specifically state what banks need to do to ensure lending to underserved communities, leaving regulators with a lot of leeway to determine what is required to comply.

The lawsuit claimed that regulators exceeded their authority by requiring banks’ activities to be scrutinized even if they were far away from a physical branch. It also said the new rule let regulators examine whether banks were providing services that didn’t relate to lending — like checking and savings products, which are outside the 1977 law’s scope.

Monday’s suit is part of a broad conflict that has brewed in recent years between banks and their regulators, which banking groups say are unwilling to make compromises. The groups have filed two other suits against regulators in Texas, one to stop a new rule requiring banks to share data on their small-business lending practices and one over a new initiative to examine banks for potential discrimination.

Jesse Van Tol, president of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, which works with banks to help them meet their Community Reinvestment Act requirements, said in an email that he was “saddened and angered” by the lawsuit.

“The banking industry is showing its true colors,” he said. “Nobody should believe them when they say they care about lending to working-class people and people of color.”

Representatives of the Fed, the F.D.I.C. and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency declined to comment.



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