Discrimination, and moreover, discriminatory lending practices within the housing market is hardly a new problem in the American context. From “redlining”, where banks cut certain neighborhoods (usually poor or minority areas) out of mortgage lending, to predatory lending, which imposes abusive loan terms on borrowers, institutions over the years have found many ways to discriminate, with varying degrees of subtlety, against certain groups of prospective homeowners.
Now, the issue of discrimination has potentially reached Clayton Homes Inc., by far the country’s largest player in the manufactured and mobile homes market and a wholly-owned subsidiary of Warren Buffett’s holding company Berkshire Hathaway.
The Campaign for Accountability, a watchdog group, filed a Freedom of Information Act request seeking any communications between the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”) and Clayton Homes, its lenders Vanderbilt Mortgage and 21st Mortgage, and Berkshire Hathaway. This request is coming 18 months after Democratic lawmakers on the House Financial Services Committee asked the CFPB to look into lending problems at Clayton Homes, spurred on by investigative reporting by The Seattle Times, BuzzFeed News and the Center for Public Integrity.
The aforementioned investigation found several pieces of troubling information, including instances of deception on the part of salesmen (in one case, a salesman was caught on tape telling a pair of Navajo tribe members in New Mexico that Vanderbilt Mortgage is the only one that finances on the reservation, which was a lie and illegal). Additionally, federal data indicates that Vanderbilt discriminates on the basis of race with respect to the interest rates that they charge – on average, the company charges black customers who make over $75,000 more than white customers who make only $35,000 (typically, interest rates are higher when the lender thinks the borrower is less likely to repay their debt on time, i.e. their annual income is lower). These issues are amplified given that Clayton Homes enjoys near-monopolistic domination of the market, particularly among minority borrowers; in 2016, Clayton financed 72% of all mobile home loans to black consumers.
According to the Center for Accountability, there has been no indication of any action against the company by the CFPB, though the agency told Democratic representatives that it was “evaluating actions” related to Clayton.
Watch this space for more on this story as it develops. If you have any experiences with lending discrimination, share them with us through our online complaint portal, or email us at ConsiderTheConsumer@gmail.com.