The Fresno Bee
By Vedika Ahuja and Tate Hill

If you or someone you know bought a home in Fresno recently, chances are the lender wasn’t a bank. That raises a number of concerns.

Recently, The Greenlining Institute and the National Community Reinvestment Coalition analyzed federal data on California home mortgage lending for 2015, examining statewide figures and looking specifically at lending patterns in Fresno, Oakland and Long Beach. Each city had a different story.

In Fresno, the story might be titled, “The Rise of the Non-Banks.” Surprisingly, nine of Fresno’s top 10 home purchase lenders weren’t banks – a much larger presence of non-banks than in the statewide figures, and a huge difference from 2013 when five of the top 10 lenders in Fresno were banks.

Why does this matter? Traditional financial institutions like banks and credit unions don’t just make loans. They take deposits and offer savings and checking accounts, ATM services, etc. The non-bank lenders writing most of the home purchase and refinance loans in Fresno don’t offer those services.

Just as important, banks holding Fresno residents’ deposits have an obligation to the community under the Community Reinvestment Act, an important law which requires banks to meet the credit and borrowing needs of the communities they serve.

The CRA has brought billions of dollars in investment to underserved communities that financial institutions had largely neglected, including rural communities here in the Valley.

One question our findings raise is, “Where are the banks?” Wells Fargo, California’s top lender, was also Fresno’s leading home purchase lender in 2015. But no other bank – not even giants like Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase – made the top 10.

What’s going on? Many banks, including Bank of America, Bank of the West, and MUFG Union Bank hold substantial deposit shares in the area. However, we see banks pulling out of the home-lending business in Fresno, and also closing branches here. Since 2008, California has lost five percent of its bank branches while Fresno County has lost 15 percent.

That is why we are working with numerous organizations on the San Joaquin Valley Economic Justice Campaign, an effort to hold banks accountable to meeting the credit needs of low-income communities and people of color in the area.

We urge banks to increase affordable home lending to underserved populations and support housing counselors and other local organizations that build the financial health and wealth of Valley communities.

We should also consider how non-banks impact the Fresno community. These non-banks aren’t covered by the Community Reinvestment Act and don’t technically have an obligation to meet the needs of the community. Many of these non-banks are more effective at reaching communities of color than banks, with three such lenders making over half of their Fresno home purchase loans to Latinos.

This could be a good thing, but could also pose a risk, depending on the terms and rates of those loans. From the little research available, non-banks appear to charge slightly higher rates than deposit banks for similarly situated borrowers.

We did not compare rates and terms of loans given by Fresno’s non-bank and bank lenders, but this question definitely needs further research, and will become increasingly important. Immigrant communities, especially those who speak and read only limited English, could be exploited if we’re not careful.

Homeownership remains one of the most crucial ways to build intergenerational wealth. Cities, community leaders, and nonprofit organizations must work together to ensure that communities of color and low-income people throughout the Valley are not left behind as the financial industry evolves.

Vedika Ahuja is Economic Equity Senior Manager at The Greenlining Institute. Tate Hill is Senior Manager of Administration at Access Plus Capital in Fresno and a Greenlining Institute board member.