Poisonous, Dangerous Cocktail: Expanding the CRA
As we try to shake off the financial crisis, here's a bright idea. Take a law that has led to the writing of an enormous amount of bad mortgages and expand it. Then take enforcement away from bank examiners and give it to housing activists. Sound like a poisonous cocktail? Well, it is what the Obama administration and Democrats are currently stirring up on Capitol Hill.
The White House and Congress want to expand a 30-year-old law--the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA)--that helped to fuel the mortgage meltdown (see chart above of the growth of CRA lending leading up to the financial crisis). What the CRA does, in effect, is compel banks to seek the permission of community activists to get regulatory approval for bank expansions and mergers. Often this means striking a deal with activist groups such as ACORN or unions like the Service Employees International Union and agreeing to allocate credit to poor and minority areas that are underserved.
In short, the CRA encourages banks to make trillions in loans they would not ordinarily make. What's more, these agreements often require that banks offer no-money-down mortgages and remove caps on how much debt a borrower can take on. All of this is done in the name of "financial democracy."
The CRA is not about community development; it is, essentially, affirmative action in lending. Trillions in loans are now to be made not on the basis of whether they can be paid back but to meet CRA goals. This is precisely what we need to get away from. Drinking this potent cocktail would be dangerous to our financial health.
~Peter Schweizer's excellent commentary in Forbes