A national organization dedicated to ending discrimination in housing filed an administrative complaint this week against a major national bank with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The civil rights group National Fair Housing Alliance, or NFHA, filed the complaint today against Wells Fargo for what it says is a failure to maintain and properly market lender-owned properties in African-American and Latino neighborhoods in major metropolitan areas across the country, including the East Bay cities of Oakland, Richmond and Concord.
The group conducted an investigation of more than 1,000 bank-owned homes located in and around Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Dayton, Miami, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Washington, D.C., and Oakland, and released the investigation's results on April 4.
NFHA CEO and President Shanna Smith said today that the group was "astonished to see how poorly maintained the properties were in African-American neighborhoods in comparison to properties in white neighborhoods."
The report found that lender-owned properties in predominantly white neighborhoods were more likely to have neatly manicured lawns, securely locked doors, and attractive "for sale" signs posted.
According to the report, homes in neighborhoods of color were more likely to be littered with trash and unsecured and to have broken windows -- a combination that invites rodent and pest infestations as well as vandals and squatters.
"It invites rodents, infestation of cockroaches -- it sends a message to the community that there's vandalism," Smith said. In Oakland, Richmond and Concord, bank-owned properties in African-American communities were nearly 3.5 times more likely to be missing a "for sale" sign than were properties in white neighborhoods, according to the report.
A spokesman for Wells Fargo said the bank has a department that is dedicated to property management, including lawn and home maintenance, home security and conducting monthly inspections to ensure the properties are maintained in accordance with local standards.
"Wells Fargo conducts all lending-related activities in a fair and consistent manner without regard to race, and this includes maintenance and marketing standards to all foreclosed properties for which we are responsible," spokesman Ruben Pulido said in the statement.
"Regrettably, the complaint does not include specific property information that can allow us to investigate the circumstances in any of the markets they list," Pulido said.
NFHA, along with four of its member organizations, is filing its administrative complaint against Wells Fargo and its subsidiaries today, Smith said, and plans to file a second complaint next week.
An attorney for NFHA, Peter Romer-Friedman, said the Federal Housing Administration prohibits discrimination in the advertising of rentals or sale properties.
Romer-Friedman said some of the properties have fallen into such a state of disrepair "that they must be demolished."
The complaint means that the housing department will contact all involved parties, including Wells Fargo, to begin a mediation process.
"We're trying to go the administrative route first hoping that the banks will want to come to the table and work out these problems," Smith said.
Should the banks not be forthcoming, the process can be escalated by the housing department with the involvement of the Department of Justice and the filing of a case federal court.
Smith said she thinks the report "will light a fire under the banks" because now there will be consequences.