Draft CRA Modernization Comment Letter

The CRA is one of the most important laws we have to hold banks accountable to local communities. It requires them to lend and provide services equitably, and to support community development.  The CRA has been particularly impactful in helping to build and preserve affordable housing throughout New York City.

We are asking people to take time over the next month to submit comments to the federal bank regulators and urge them to preserve and strengthen – and not weaken – the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA).

Please click the "download" button directly below for a Word document version of the draft text we created for you to submit with your organizational information, and any details you want to provide. You may also copy and paste the language below to  submit with your organizational information, and any details you want to provide.

Here is the link for submission.

How to Submit Comments

1. Use this sample letter to personalize your comment.

2. When you’re ready with your comment, go to the government’s comment submission form.

https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/09/05/2018-19169/reforming-the-community-reinvestment-act-regulatory-framework

3. When you get there, copy/paste your text into the comment box or if you exceed the word limit you can attach your letter as a .docx, .jpeg or .pdf.

5. Add your contact information, check the box to acknowledge your comment will be made public, and click the green button that says “submit comment.”

6. You will then be directed to a confirmation page that indicates your comment was submitted successfully. This also gives you your official comment number. Your comment will also appear online within a few business days.

Sample Comments

November XX, 2018

Comments regarding “Reforming the Community Reinvestment Act Regulatory Framework”

RE: Docket ID OCC-2018-0008

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing on behalf of <ORGANIZATION> regarding the OCC’s Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) seeking input on proposed changes to the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). [Introduction to yourself / your org; Can also say if you’re a member of ANHD / NCRC]

We have significant concerns about the ideas presented in the ANPR and the fact that the OCC is moving forward on its own, without the other two federal regulators. We urge the OCC to start anew, working with the FDIC and Federal Reserve, to preserve and strengthen the CRA, and not weaken it in any way.

The CRA matters! It is one of the most important laws we have to hold banks accountable to local communities, requiring them to lend and provide services equitably, and to support community development in the areas where they do business. This landmark law was one of many civil rights laws passed in response to discriminatory policies and practices that locked people of color out of banking, credit, housing, employment, and education. It has led to trillions of dollars reinvested nationwide, and billions each year here in New York City[WHY IS CRA GREAT? IN YOUR WORDS]

But, for all of its benefits, inequities persist. Too many low-income, immigrant, and minority New Yorkers still lack sufficient access to loans and capital to purchase homes, improve their homes, and start and maintain businesses. Smaller nonprofits struggle to access grants and loans. Too many people lack access to bank accounts and bank branches, and too many tenants are being harassed and displaced when banks lend to unscrupulous landlords.    [can write more about challenges you see for your community]

All of this underscores the need to preserve and strengthen the CRA, making sure that the core remains intact.  In that context, we have deep concerns about some of the proposals:

 

We Oppose the One-Ratio Approach

The OCC is proposing an approach that threatens to substantially weaken the CRA. While they ask about how it would link to local needs, they seem to be proposing an overall “one-ratio” approach that would assess banks on their total volume of CRA dollars loaned and invested and compare it to some measure of a bank’s size. For example, a bank may have a target goal of reinvesting 10% of its deposits, or 8% of its assets. Such a metric is too crude to assess a bank’s performance alone and it cannot be done at a national level.  

Banks have local CRA teams, with staff and resources devoted to New York City because they have a local obligation to serve New York City. This includes staff who understand the local needs, know the organizations working in the city, and understand the range of government programs that support them. This has led to a multitude of programs, partnerships, products, and financing deals to further the mission of local nonprofits and CDCs. Without this obligation, we risk losing this long-term base of knowledge and resources that can continually respond to local needs. We must also ensure that any metrics system doesn’t inadvertently reduce the incentive to make impactful loans and investments that may be smaller or more complicated. [Insert examples of collaboration/partnerships/local staff.]

Banks must be evaluated on the quantity and quality of their activities within the local communities they serve and based on the needs of these local communities:

  • Equitable distribution of loans: Ensure that loans are reaching the people and communities they are meant to serve – LMI people, immigrants, people of color.
  • Impact of their activities: Incentivize impactful loans and investments that lead to deep and permanent affordable housing, access to quality jobs, pathways out of poverty. If the local community determines particular loans or types of lending are counter those goals, and lead to displacement or gentrification, they should not be given credit.
  • Consequences for harmful behavior: There should be no CRA credit for loans that lead to displacement, harassment or poor conditions. There should be consequences for banks that engage in such activity. 

If banks are striving for one large target goal for dollars invested, they will choose to focus on larger deals, while shying away from smaller dollar loans and smaller deals that may be more impactful for lower-income people and communities and small businesses that need access to capital and resources, only exacerbating these disparities. 

[Insert examples of, impactful CRA activities: 1-4 family loans for LMI borrowers, Loans to small businesses, Investments in CDFIs. Nonprofit CDCs, etc.]

[Examples of harmful behavior that should be deterred]

 

Community Input Is at The Heart of the CRA

No rating system can be so simplistic and formulaic that it cuts out community input. This is an integral part of the CRA. This means making it easy for community members to comment on exams and applications; proactively soliciting community input for CRA exams and also at times of mergers and expansions; and ensuring that the performance context is rooted in local community needs with both quantitative and qualitative data.

Banks should also be required to develop a proactive CRA plan at the time of mergers to ensure that the newly expanded institution leads to more resources for local communities, and not fewer, as is too often the case. [Insert examples of outcomes from local participation in CRA: CRA plans, commenting on exams, interactions with regulators; Can also talk more about local needs the CRA should be addressing]

CRA must focus on historically redlined people and communities: LMI people and communities, people and communities of color.

The OCC seeks to expand the types of activities that count for CRA credit – including activities that do not target LMI people and communities. We are deeply concerned that these proposals could dilute the impact of CRA and, even worse, take focus away from the populations it was meant to benefit, which are historically redlined people and communities.

The OCC’s proposals would count more activities outside of assessment areas; expand the universe of activities that automatically qualify for CRA credit without scrutinizing if they actually benefit LMI populations; expand allowable CRA small business lending to larger businesses; and quantify non-monetary activities such as service hours. As it is, LMI people, immigrants, and people of color struggle to access loans, and small businesses – particularly newer businesses and businesses operated by LMI people, immigrants, and people of color – lack access to loans and capital. The local need for deep, permanent affordable housing, and access to quality jobs persist in many of our communities. The CRA already allows for the evaluation of consumer loans beyond home and small business loans. That should be more uniform, including for limited purpose banks like credit card banks. The distribution and quality of those loans can have deep impacts on local community wealth. The focus must remain on increasing access to banks and banking and supporting community development.  

The CRA should never have been color-blind. The CRA came as a direct result of redlining and discrimination that locked people of color out of banking. In New York City, the concentration of small business loans is much lower in majority Black and Latino neighborhoods. Disparities in lending, income, and wealth are stark among and within Black, Latino and Asian communities.  As long as racial disparities in lending remain stubborn and persistent, the CRA must include lending, investing, and services to people and communities of color in its evaluations. [Give Examples of CRA activities that ARE beneficial – that need to be emphasized more, strengthened: small dollar loans, grants to neighborhood-based organizations, support for financial counseling/capability, etc. Why it’s so important to keep an explicit focus on LMI people and communities Can cite racial disparities here and why race matters.]

 

Modernizing Assessment Areas

The banking world has changed, especially with the rise in online banks. We are concerned with the OCC’s approach to expanding assessment areas to be only considered for “extra credit” and ways to amass CRA credit to reach the one-ratio target, with no incentive to serve local communities.

Banks should maintain the local obligation they currently have around branches and ATMs, and also have additional assessment areas based on where they do considerable business, such as making loans or taking deposits.  These should be new assessment areas that evaluate their record of lending in these additional areas. Any changes cannot lead to a loss of activity in existing assessment areas.  [Any comments on why sustained local investment matters among banks with a CRA obligation – why it matters that online lenders and limited purpose banks (eg: credit card banks) others are assessed where they do business] 

 

Branches and Branch Products Matter: Location, Access and Affordability

The ANPR devotes very little attention to access to banking and goes so far as to question whether branching in LMI communities should continue to be considered on CRA exams. The answer is unequivocally YES! The need for bank branches remains. Nationwide, a quarter of all households use bank tellers as their primary method of account access, and that jumps to about 45% of seniors and 40% of those earning below $30,000. The Bronx has one of the highest percentages of unbanked residents and lowest percentages of bank branches per residents in the country. Not everyone has access to online banking, and barriers exist for specific populations, such as the elderly and immigrants. Mobile and online banking should supplement, not replace, branches.  

And branches alone aren’t enough if people can’t use the products. In the NY Metro area, 7.9% of households are still unbanked, and that rate jumps to 15% for Black households and 18% for Hispanic.  The unbanked rate is a staggering 29% for families earning below $15,000 and 21% for families earning $15,000-$30,000.  The CRA should also evaluate the cost of branch and online products and how banks are or aren’t reducing barriers to access the products, including cost, identification, and prior banking issues.  [Examples of why branches and low-cost, accessible products matter]

 

Conclusion

Meaningful CRA reform could boost lending and access to banking for underserved communities. CRA ratings must be reformed so the pass rate is no longer 98%. Assessment areas must be added that include areas outside of bank branch networks in which banks make high volumes of loans. Lending and access to banking for people and communities of color must be considered on CRA exams. Non-bank affiliates of banks must be included on CRA exams. 

To ease bank anxiety about unclear aspects of the CRA, communications among the federal agencies, banks, and community groups could be improved. However, easing bank anxiety via the one ratio and diminishing the importance of branches, assessment areas, and public input will decrease lending and access to banking in the communities that need it the most. The federal agencies also must not establish easier exams for any category of banks that excuse them from current requirements for community development financing. We urge the OCC to go back to the drawing board and develop reform proposals with the Federal Reserve Board and the FDIC. Thank you for your attention to our comments.

Read moreless

Share this page: