Shortly after The Chicago Reporter published its latest investigation into mortgage lending practices in 2007, it received a call from an unexpected place: Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office.
Madigan was interested in the Reporter’s data analysis that showed high-cost loans were being steered disproportionately toward African-American and Latino applicants. She used the Reporter’s findings to file lawsuits against two of the country’s major lending forces: Countrywide Financial Corporation and Wells Fargo and Company.
In 2011, the discriminatory lending case against Countrywide resulted in a $355 million settlement. A year later, Madigan struck a $175 million settlement with Wells Fargo.
The Reporter’s series on high-cost lending dates back to 2005. Kimbriell Kelly, the author of the initial article, analyzed 2003 federal mortgage data and discovered that 48 percent of African Americans were approved for loans in Chicago, while their white counterparts succeeded 76 percent of the time.
After that initial investigation, the revelations rolled on. In 2007, Kelly reported that Chicago led the nation in the number of high-cost loans issued between 2005 and 2006. “Finding out that Chicago was No. 1 in the nation–that was a key moment,” said Alden K. Loury, who edited the story.
Once again, it confirmed that African-American and Latino homebuyers in Chicago were the hardest hit by high-cost loans. African Americans were disproportionately targeted for high-cost loans that carried interest rates at least 3 percentage points higher than the U.S. Department of the Treasury standard. And African Americans with annual incomes greater than $100,000 had a higher chance of receiving high-cost loans than white applicants making less than $35,000, the Reporter found.
Loury followed up with an investigation showing that Countrywide issued the largest number of high-cost loans among all Chicago-area lenders in 2006.
Madigan said the Reporter’s investigations were instrumental in her lawsuits against the two companies. “People’s access to credit, and the terms of their credit, should be determined on an equal basis, not on the basis of the color of their skin,” Madigan said after the 2011 Countrywide settlement.