Congressman Anthony Weiner recently released a report that found that since 2006, the 20 wealthiest neighborhoods in New York City gained 48 bank branches, while the 20 poorest neighborhoods gained only 8.
In the early nineties I came across similar statistics. It was part of what prompted me and other local folks to start the Central Brooklyn Federal Credit Union. Upon hearing about the Weiner report last week, a friend who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with me at the credit union sent me a link to the Weiner press statement, remarking “Deja f**king vu.”
Apologies for the barrage of profanity. But when you watch the same financial shenanigans being played again and again, over generations, you tend to get a little salty.
Race is as important a factor in determining where a bank opens as income. Bedford-Stuyvesant, predominately black low and moderate income neighborhood, was found to have lost a bank over the last four years. But Cambia Heights, an anchor neighborhood of the black middle class in Queens, has no bank at all.
It’s gotten to the point where social justice organizations that used to combat selective bank scarcity don’t even react to news like this anymore. Gone is the hope that the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act can be an effective leverage point against bank discrimination. While “bank redlining” has disappeared from modern discourse, along with dated terms like “Jim Crow” and “apartheid”, the reality of bank redlining nonetheless remains a fixture on the American landscape.
Banks are not just places where savings accounts are open, nor are they even necessarily the center of financial action any more. In recent years mortgage companies, for instance, captured a large part of the market in under-banked areas.
But the presence of a retail bank is a signal that a government regulated, federally insured, “mainstream” financial institution believes that your neighborhood is worthy of its attention and investment. And Weiner’s findings are heaped on top of the fact that traditional 30 year mortgages may soon be a thing of the past due to the demise of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which significantly expanded the secondary market and thus enabled mortgage makers to extend their lending. Ironically, Fannie and Freddie, not to mention the entire American economy, were brought to their knees by their heavy participation in predatory subprime mortgage lending – a practice predicated largely on the exploitation of black and brownborrowers shut out of the prime mortgage market.
My suggestion? Vote with your feet. And your dollars. An institution like the Brooklyn Cooperative Federal Credit Union (full disclosure: I’m a board member) is not only located in Central Brooklyn, and provides a full range of financial services, but is committed to deepening its roots in the area, not severing them.