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No quick payback

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Rochester was judged better than Buffalo the other day. But no honor was bestowed on either city.

The Center for Community Change, a Washington, DC-based not-for-profit that jumpstarts grassroots development projects across the country, said Rochester and other Upstate cities rank above the national average in “subprime” loans made in African-American neighborhoods. The report, Risk or Race: Racial Disparities and the Subprime Refinance Market, looked at 331 metro areas in the US, says a CCC news release. You can read it at www.communitychange.org.

Subprime loans are those that carry a high interest rate; they’re often peddled to people who have shaky credit, or to those who are perceived to be “risky” because of their race or ethnicity. (Curiously, even middle-class people of color are often victimized by high-interest “predatory” lending.) A subprime refinance mortgage, for example, might run 4 to 8 percentage points above the norm for mortgages --- and might also have onerous payback provisions and “traps.”

The CCC study found that in Rochester, 45 percent of loans made in Black neighborhoods were subprime; in white neighborhoods, the study found, the figure was 19 percent. Buffalo, by comparison, was worst in the nation, according to the study: “Nearly 76 percent of all refinance loans made to Black neighborhoods [there] are subprime,” the study said.

The CCC news release quoted housing specialist Ruhi Maker, an attorney with the Public Interest Law Office of Rochester. “This is a big problem [here],” she said. “We are contacted by victims of high cost loans every week. Many of them have limited or no remedies under existing law.”

The study mentions CCC is cooperating with US Senator Paul Sarbanes (D-Maryland), who’s about to introduce legislation aimed at countering the ills of predatory lending. Sarbanes, a member of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, himself has cited Buffalo-Rochester-area Congressmember John LaFalce for “important leadership” on the issue. LaFalce, who’s historically supported such landmark pro-urban legislation as the Community Reinvestment Act, is a ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee.

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