Wells Fargo settles foreclosed-homes complaint

Wells Fargo and fair housing groups across the country, including in Atlanta, have settled a complaint that the bank maintained foreclosed homes in predominantly white neighborhoods while neglecting homes in majority black or Latino areas.

Wells Fargo did not admit any wrongdoing. “This represents a significant commitment by Wells Fargo, HUD and NFHA to invest in programs that will strengthen minority communities affected by foreclosure,” J.K. Huey, senior vice president of Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, said in a statement.

The bank will provide $27 million to 19 cities to promote home ownership and neighborhood stability in predominantly minority communities, according to the National Fair Housing Alliance.

The money will be distributed in grants to provide down payment assistance to homebuyers seeking houses in targeted neighborhoods and to renovate foreclosed homes to increase ownership, the alliance said Thursday.

The housing groups filed a complaint in April 2012 with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Complaints are also pending against Bank of America and US Bank.

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The NFHA last year said it examined more than 1,000 foreclosed houses in white and minority neighborhoods in nine major metro areas, including Atlanta, and found disparities in property maintenance and marketing methods.

The “real estate owned” homes - those owned by banks and other lenders - in minority neighborhoods were more likely to look abandoned while homes in white communities generally looked lived-in and better maintained, the report said.

Metro Fair Housing Services of Atlanta examined 187 REO homes, mostly in nonwhite neighborhoods, and found foreclosed homes in black neighborhoods were 4.65 times more likely than in white neighborhoods to be missing “for sale” signs.

Gail Williams, executive director of Metro Fair Housing Services, said the new agreement will “level the playing field between investors and families chasing the dream of home ownership.”

NFHA President Shanna Smith said, “Other banks should follow Wells Fargo’s lead.”

Wells Fargo will also pay $3 million to the housing groups to cover costs and damages related to the complaint, and $11.5 million to HUD to support neighborhoods in an additional 25 cities.

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