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Were Big Banks Guilty of Racial Discrimination in the Housing Crisis?

A lawsuit just filed in New York on behalf of black borrowers in Detroit connects for the first time the housing collapse with civil rights law.
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In the years leading up to the housing crash, public data suggest that black would-be homeowners in Detroit were 70 percent more likely than white borrowers to receive a risky subprime loan from the now-defunct lender New Century Mortgage Company. This is the central statistic embedded in a 70-page lawsuit filed Monday in New York against Morgan Stanley, the investment bank that went on to purchase a large share of those loans for repackaging in mortgage-backed securities.

The suit, filed by the ACLU and the National Consumer Law Center, alleges that a kind of "reverse-redlining" became the norm in Detroit. Fifty years ago, discriminatory housing policies prevented many blacks from obtaining home mortgages. Barely five years ago, this suit suggests that a different kind of racial discrimination was taking place in Detroit: Predatory lenders couldn’t approve enough high-risk loans to black borrowers, increasing Morgan Stanley’s profits and disproportionately leaving many of these black homeowners in financial ruin.