Washington News and Views

National Advocacy Groups Write to Leach, Banking Committee Democrats On CRA

By Allen Fishbein

Twelve national community reinvestment and housing development groups have written to House Banking Committee Chair Jim Leach [R-IA], detailing the various provisions of his expanded bank powers bill, HR 2520, that “would do real damage to the nation’s underserved urban and rural areas.”

HR 2520 would roll back the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) and other consumer disclosures. It would also allow parent companies of insured banks to own uninsured banks, thereby escaping CRA requirements by shifting all their deposit accounts above $100,000 to their uninsured affiliate.

Copies of the letter were sent to all House Banking Committee members. Many Committee Democrats have criticized Mr. Leach for excluding them over the past year as he negotiated with industry lobbyists for a compromise expanded bank powers bill. The Democrats picked up on a similar theme used by the national organizations in their letter.

The co-signers of the letter were as follows: ACORN, Center for Community Change, Enterprise Foundation, Greenlining Institute, Local Initiatives Support Corporation, McAuley Institute, National Council of La Raza, National Community Reinvestment Coalition, National Neighborhood Coalition, National People’s Action, NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, and Organization for New Equality.

In addition, many of these same organizations recently wrote to Banking Committee Democrats, urging them “to oppose the Chairman’s divide and conquer strategy and to demand a clear and specific section by section understanding of the provisions that the Committee will report to the floor on CRA and CRA-related provisions . . .The vote on the Leach ploy is likely to be the ultimate test of Members’ support for CRA and the related issues.”

Since the groups sent their letter, Chairman Leach (R-IA) abandoned his efforts – for this year – to pass sweeping bank legislation, after it became clear that he did not have sufficient votes to pass the bill. Instead, Mr. Leach is working to quickly pass a more modest regulatory relief bill. Preservation of CRA, however, is not yet assured. Mindful of a threatened Presidential veto, Chairman Leach suggested that he would delete the “most controversial” CRA provisions from the regulatory relief bill he takes to the floor, yet refused to spell out precisely which provisions he would drop. However, indications are that the revised bill will continue to include scale-backs in the opportunities for community groups to bring CRA challenges against bank mergers and other expansions. It may also still lead to a reduction, by as many as one-third, in the number of lenders disclosing their mortgage patterns under the Home Mortgage disclosure Act.

A complete list of anti-CRA provisions in H.R. 2520 that were cited in the letter to Leach are available from: Allen Fishbein or Debby Goldberg at CCC’s Neighborhood Revitalization Project, phone: 202/342-0567; fax: 202/333-5462.


From the Center for Community Change

Advocates Swamp White House With Protest Calls

By Lisa Ranghelli

On June 12, housing advocates from around the country jammed White House phone lines to express their outrage that the Clinton Administration is supporting public housing reforms that will increase poverty and homelessness. Within 24 hours of the call-in campaign to Deputy Assistant to the President for Economic Policy Gene Sperling, CCC received calls from the White House to discuss the bills (HR 2406 and S 1260). The proposed reforms to deregulate public housing would allow housing authorities to raise rents on working poor families, target scarce resources to higher income households, kick out families that are struggling to become economically independent, and remove many tenant protections.

The call-in campaign was in response to recent indications that the Administration has whole-heartedly embraced a plan that will be disastrous for public housing residents. At a recent public housing summit sponsored by HUD in Arlington, VA, Vice President Gore supported the reforms, and announced that the Administration plans to demolish 100,000 public housing units by the end of 2000. He also said housing authorities will have access to FBI crime databases when screening applicants for admission.

Gore’s endorsement of the congressional reforms came on the heels of HUD Secretary Cisneros’ own remarks in support of the public housing bills. At the housing summit, Cisneros described this radical legislation as one of the most significant bipartisan accomplishments of the last two years. Rep. Barney Frank [D-MA], apparently the lone voice of reason at the summit, questioned the rationale he called the “flexible-dollar ratio:” that Congress can increase flexibility to make up for cuts in funding levels.

A Shelterforce ad seeking donations from readers. On the left there's a photo of a person wearing a red shirt that reads "Because the Rent Can't Wait."

There is strong evidence that HUD continues to take a weak position on crucial issues. In testimony before the Senate Appropriations committee in June, Cisneros stated that he would accept a scaled-back moving to work’ demonstration plan of 50 to 70 public housing authorities. The moving to work’ demonstration plan in HR 2406 would allow the complete deregulation of 300 housing authorities over 3 years (NYC in the first year). Virtually all federal rules, including those governing rents, income eligibility, and tenant rights would be eliminated at those sites.

Keep The Cap’ Campaign Gains Bipartisan Support In The Senate
Thanks to the advocacy efforts of grassroots groups, at least 20 senators – including GOP Senator Jeffords [VT] – have endorsed a letter from Sen. Bob Kerry [D-MA] to Banking Committee Chairperson Al D’Amato [R-NY]. The letter urges him to hold to the Senate position on the Brooke amendment, and opposes any conference report that further weakens it. The Brooke amendment caps tenant rents in public and assisted housing at 30 percent of income. The Senate bill is less severe than the House bill with respect to repeal of Brooke. In addition, Senator Chafee [R-RI] and several GOP colleagues sent a separate letter to D’Amato, urging him to oppose the House provisions on the Brooke amendment, mandatory minimum rents, mandatory self-sufficiency contracts, and unreasonable occupancy standards.

Negotiations are underway between House and Senate conferees to come up with a final public housing bill. There is still time to contact your members of Congress and express your concerns. To receive a 30-page briefing paper on the most critical issues in the bills, and a 4-page set of talking points, call Teri Tompkins at 202-342-0567. For further information, contact Lisa Ranghelli; 202-342-0567; hn0688@handsnet.org.

 

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Allen Fishbein is director of housing and credit policy for Consumer Federation of America. 202-387-6121 or afishbein@consumerfed.org. He was general counsel of the Center for Community Change. From 1999-2000 he was a senior adviser for Government Sponsored Enterprises Oversight at HUD, where he helped supervise the establishment of new affordable housing goals for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

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