Architect Magazine: The Return of Redlining

Architect Magazine, February 20, 2020: The Return of Redlining

There’s a battle underway in Washington, D.C., and its outcome will have a profound affect on the architecture profession and the built environment in the United States. I’m not talking about the misguided effort to mandate a single style for federal buildings or the dangerous political resistance to action on climate change—important as those fights are. I’m referring to another struggle, perhaps less mediagenic, over regulatory enforcement of the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) of 1977.

Sound like a wonktastic snoozefest? Maybe so, but hundreds of billions in essential private development dollars may be at stake. The CRA was enacted to counteract redlining, a pernicious, decades-long practice whereby the federal government and the financial sector collaborated to deny loans in poor, largely black neighborhoods; it effectively requires banks to finance affordable housing, small businesses and other beneficial initiatives that they once spurned.

The CRA is more than four decades old, so a review of the regulations is appropriate. Unfortunately, the proposal from the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), two of the three governmental bodies with oversight authority, would undermine protections against redliningcreating loopholes for banks to once again shut the door on communities they deem undesirable. The third body, the Federal Reserve Board, opposes the OCC and FDIC plan.

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