Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Emigrant Savings Bank Discriminated Against Minorities, Brooklyn Jury Says

A federal jury in Brooklyn found on Monday that the Emigrant Savings Bank had discriminated against eight minority homeowners by purposefully marketing to them subprime mortgages with what were described as predatory interest rates of as much as 18 percent a year.

In 2011, the homeowners — among them a home health aide, a library worker and a clinician at Rikers Island — filed a lawsuit against the bank in Federal District Court in Brooklyn, claiming that Emigrant Savings had targeted minority customers who had low credit scores with so-called no-income refinancing loans from 2005 to 2009, both before and after the subprime crash. Ending a monthlong trial, the jury’s verdict upheld the plaintiffs’ claim that the bank had “aggressively” sold the “highly abusive” loans specifically to minority families in violation of the Fair Housing Act, among other state and federal laws.

Six of the plaintiffs were awarded a total of $950,000 in damages in the case. Two others waived their claims after entering into a loan modification agreement with the bank. “Today’s verdict was a victory for borrowers seeking redress for Emigrant’s discriminatory and predatory lending practices,” said Rachel Geballe, a lawyer for Brooklyn Legal Services, which represented the plaintiffs.

One, Edith Saint-Jean, testified that she and her husband had refinanced their home in Brooklyn to pay off more than $30,000 in delinquent bills. Ms. Saint-Jean said that an independent broker had assured her that her monthly payments on the Emigrant Savings loan would go down within six months, but it did not happen. “They destroyed my life,” she said.

Officials for the bank had argued that the mortgages represented less than 5 percent of Emigrant Savings’ total assets and often allowed low-income clients, many of them black and Latino, access to the credit market when they had no other options.

“Emigrant loans were a ‘lifeline’ for these consumers — which is why more than 70 percent of the borrowers in this program succeeded and kept their homes,” the bank said in a statement on Monday. After promising to appeal the jury’s verdict, the statement added: “Each of the plaintiffs greatly benefited from their Emigrant loans when compared to any gain they would have realized from selling their homes earlier.”

Correction: June 27, 2016 
An earlier version of this article misidentified who Edith Saint-Jean had testified assured her that her monthly payments on a loan from Emigrant Savings Bank would go down after six months. It was an independent broker, not Emigrant Savings.


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