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Since the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s inception in 2011, the Office of Fair Lending and Equal Opportunity (Office of Fair Lending) has been a powerful force within the agency. This week, Acting Director Mick Mulvaney announced that the Office of Fair Lending will be transferred from where it currently resides – in the Division of Supervision, Enforcement, and Fair Lending (SEFL) – to the Office of the Director, where it will become part of the Office of Equal Opportunity and Fairness. Despite the similar nomenclature, the priorities of the Office of Fair Lending and the Office of Equal Opportunity and Fairness are vastly different, with the latter having oversight over equal employment opportunity and diversity and inclusion initiatives within the CFPB. The move likely signals a substantial curtailment of CFPB fair lending enforcement activities.

Section 1013 of the Dodd-Frank Act mandated the establishment of an Office of Fair Lending and the statutory language provides that the Office of Fair Lending “shall have such powers and duties as the Director may delegate to the Office, including”:

  • Providing oversight and enforcement of federal fair lending laws (including ECOA and HMDA);
  • Coordinating fair lending efforts with other federal agencies and state regulators;
  • Working with the private industry and consumer advocates on the promotion of fair lending compliance and education; and
  • Providing annual reports to Congress on the Bureau’s efforts to fulfill its fair lending mandate.

The CFPB to date had in fact given the Office of Fair Lending the powers and duties listed in the statute, and Office of Fair Lending attorneys played a substantial role in overseeing fair lending examinations and bringing fair lending enforcement actions. Indeed, the Office of Fair Lending has come under fire for “regulation through enforcement” and for “pushing the envelope” through its aggressive enforcement of federal anti-discrimination statutes against lenders on the basis of statistical analyses (i.e., dealer markup and redlining). It is clear that, as a result of the restructuring, the Office of Fair Lending will no longer have supervisory or enforcement responsibilities. According to an email sent by Mulvaney to CFPB staff that was leaked to several news outlets, the Office of Fair Lending’s new focus will be on advocacy, coordination, and education. Although SEFL as a whole still maintains responsibility for fair lending supervisory and enforcement matters, this restructuring signals a de-emphasis on fair lending and likely will lead to a significant decrease in the number of fair lending examinations, investigations and enforcement actions brought by the Bureau. Indeed, Congress presumably required the establishment of a separate fair lending office out of recognition that having such an office would ensure a persistent attention to fair lending issues. Stripping the office of supervisory and enforcement responsibilities will similarly result in less of a focus on those issues. While SEFL leadership and staff are likely to continue to pursue fair lending matters, those matters will now compete for attention and resources with the myriad other issues over which the CFPB has jurisdiction.

In its Fair Lending Report released last year, the Bureau’s then-Director Cordray touted its “historic resolution of the largest redlining, auto finance, and credit card fair lending cases.” Cordray also identified redlining, mortgage loan servicing, student loan servicing, and small business lending as the Bureau’s fair lending priorities going forward. Under the Bureau’s new leadership, fair lending issues evidently will no longer be a top priority. With the rollback in the CFPB’s fair lending enforcement activities, there may be an uptick in consumer advocacy groups seeking other avenues for fair lending relief, such as class action litigation and complaints filed with HUD and state agencies tasked with enforcing state anti-discrimination laws.

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) rejected the pleas of many in the mortgage industry by adding a question about the applicant’s language preference to the future Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac Uniform Residential Loan Application (URLA) (Form 1003/65). While the FHFA is seeking to promote access to credit for consumers with limited English skills, lenders remained concerned that the revisions will raise the risk of confusing or misleading those consumers. Read more about the FHFA’s upcoming changes in Mayer Brown’s latest Legal Update.

When, if at all, should a mortgage lender or servicer be required to conduct business in a language other than English when the consumer has expressed a preference that language? The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) is seeking input on actions Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could take to promote access to mortgage credit for qualified borrowers with limited English proficiency, and to ensure those borrowers have access to information to understand the mortgage process.  This newest effort by the FHFA follows earlier efforts by that agency and others in the industry, but concerns about increased costs, legal risk, regulatory consequences continue to arise.

Mayer Brown’s latest Legal Update discusses the FHFA’s request and many of the complexities that quickly arise when considering how to access LEP borrowers.

On June 22, 2017, the CFPB’s Student Loan Ombudsman put out its annual report on student loans, as required by the Dodd-Frank Act. The report analyzes complaints submitted by consumers about student loan servicers between March 2016 and February 2017. Many of the complaints relate to practices, such as payment processing, customer service and borrower communication, and income-based repayment plan enrollment, that the CFPB has frequently scrutinized in the past through supervision and enforcement activities.

However, the majority of the report focuses on complaints from consumers related to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, which allows those who enter careers in public service to have their student loans forgiven after a decade. The CFPB’s report criticizes servicers’ alleged failures to actively advise borrowers on how to qualify for PSLF, track their progress toward PSLF completion, and inform them about the requirements of the PSLF program. In conjunction with the report, the CFPB updated its education loan examination procedures to include additional questions about the PSLF program. Continue Reading CFPB Issues Report on Student Loan Servicing and Updated Examination Procedures

On Friday, January 13, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) filed a lawsuit against a Minnesota bank in which it alleged that the bank violated the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act by unlawfully redlining in the Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington metropolitan statistical area (“Minneapolis MSA”).  The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, claims that from 2010 to at least 2015, the bank purposely avoided serving the credit needs of residents in majority-minority neighborhoods while meeting the credit needs of residents in majority-white neighborhoods.  The DOJ is seeking damages for aggrieved persons, civil money penalties, and injunctive relief. The bank has chosen to litigate, rather than settle, as it believes the DOJ’s claim is baseless. Continue Reading Redlining Revelations: DOJ Lawsuit Alleges Discriminatory Practices by Bank