A.G. Schneiderman Announces Redlining Lawsuit Alleging Bank Refused To Make Mortgages Available In Buffalo’s Predominantly African-American Neighborhoods

Evans Bank’s Lending Area Map Includes Most Of Buffalo Metro Area; Excludes All African-American Neighborhoods On The City’s Eastside

Schneiderman: Discrimination Is Illegal, And All New Yorkers Must Be Offered Equal Access To Mortgage Opportunities

BUFFALO – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced the filing of a lawsuit today against Evans Bank, N.A. and Evans Bancorp, Inc. (together, “Evans”) alleging that the regional bank engaged in unlawful discrimination by “redlining,” or denying access to mortgage loans to predominantly African-American neighborhoods in the City of Buffalo because of the racial composition of those neighborhoods.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York, alleges that Evans has systematically denied its mortgages and services to African-Americans in the Buffalo metro area. From at least 2009 to the present, Evans has redlined the predominantly African-American neighborhoods, intentionally excluding these neighborhoods from its lending area; developing mortgage products that it made unavailable to these neighborhoods, notwithstanding the creditworthiness of the applicants; and refusing to solicit customers, market mortgages, or provide banking facilities in those predominantly African-American neighborhoods.

“Redlining is illegal, discriminatory, and must be made a thing of the past, once and for all,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “It is crucial that all New Yorkers, regardless of the color of their skin or the racial composition of their neighborhood, be afforded an equal opportunity to obtain credit. This is especially true as families continue to recover from the mortgage crisis--and as we work to achieve a fairer, and more just, New York State. My office will continue to do all it can to restore the health of our economy and ensure that all New Yorkers are treated equally, regardless of race or ethnicity.”

The lawsuit alleges that Evans created a map defining its lending area that included most of the City of Buffalo and its surroundings, but excluding the predominantly African-American neighborhoods on Buffalo’s Eastside. Evans called the included areas on its map its Trade Area. By excluding certain neighborhoods from its Trade Area, Evans automatically disqualified Eastside residents—regardless of their creditworthiness—from obtaining certain mortgage products. Evans designed these mortgage products to be available only to borrowers in certain limited geographic areas, none of which included the Eastside.

This action is part of an ongoing, wider investigation by Attorney General Schneiderman’s Civil Rights Bureau into mortgage redlining by banks operating in New York, and it was prompted by concerns that banks had stopped lending to minority communities in the wake of the mortgage crisis and financial collapse of 2008. Historically, banks have engaged in redlining in racially segregated areas, and according to U.S. Census Data from 2005 to 2009, New York ranks as the most highly segregated state in the United States. According to U.S. Census data, the Buffalo metro area was among the most highly segregated large metro areas in the nation in 1980, 1990, 2000, and as recently as 2010, when it was the sixth most highly segregated large metro area in the United States.

The lawsuit further alleges that Evans refused to solicit customers and market its loan products outside its Trade Area, including in the Eastside neighborhoods.  Evans further avoided locating its branch offices and other facilities in the Eastside neighborhoods, instead locating them so as to form an exclusionary ring around those neighborhoods.

The court papers allege that, by redlining the Eastside neighborhoods, which are home to more than 85,000 people, Evans has excluded an area that is home to over 75% of Buffalo’s African-American population from the marketing and sales of its mortgage products and services.  The lawsuit alleges that a statistical analysis shows the racially discriminatory effects of the bank’s practices, demonstrating that Evans failed to draw mortgage applications from and make mortgage loans to African-American borrowers and Eastside residents at the rates expected based on the performance of comparable banks operating in the same area during the same period as Evans.

The complaint alleges, for example, that Evans received 1,114 residential mortgage applications in the Buffalo metro area from 2009 to 2012, only four of which were reported as from African-American applicants.  Similarly, of these 1,114 residential mortgage applications, the lawsuit alleges that only eight came from the Eastside neighborhoods, only one of which was reported as from an African-American applicant.  The lawsuit alleges that Evans’s rates of attracting loan applications from and originating loans to African-American borrowers and Eastside residents lag far behind comparable banks and that these discriminatory effects are the result of Evans’s racially discriminatory policy of redlining the Eastside neighborhoods.

Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, said, "It is imperative that we work to close the wealth chasm that exists between African Americans and white Americans.  Today's redlining lawsuit is an important part of the economic empowerment discussion happening nationally and in our communities.  When banks open their doors for business, they should provide equal and open access to all individuals, regardless of race.  I thank the Attorney General's Civil Rights Bureau for confronting ongoing redlining of minority communities."

Joseph Kelemen, executive director of Western New York Law Center, said, "Buffalo and Erie County are still suffering from the mortgage crisis. Redlining compounds the effects of that crisis by denying individuals access to homes, jobs, and economic opportunity, and the result is that entire neighborhoods are prevented from recovering and developing.  The Western New York Law Center applauds Attorney General Schneiderman for addressing this problem."

The lawsuit alleges violations of the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq., the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. L. § 290 et seq., and Chapter 154 of the Code of the City of Buffalo, § 154-1 et seq.

This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Mayur Saxena and Special Counsel Jessica Attie of the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau, which is led by Bureau Chief Kristen Clarke. Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice is Alvin Bragg.

The Attorney General's Office is committed to protecting all New Yorkers from unlawful discrimination. To file a civil rights complaint, contact the Attorney General’s Office at (212) 416-8250, civil.rights@ag.ny.gov or visit www.ag.ny.gov.

A copy of today's complaint can be read here.

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