Civil rights groups accuse Bank of America of housing discrimination in Midwest

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A Bank of America property in Milwaukee.

A coalition of fair housing groups – The National Fair Housing Alliance, the HOPE Fair Housing Center, the South Suburban Housing Center, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council and the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana – filed a federal discrimination complaint against Bank of America.

This complaint is the result of an undercover investigation of Bank of America that found the financial giant maintains and markets foreclosed homes in white neighborhoods in a much better manner than in African-American and Latino neighborhoods in Chicago, Milwaukee and Indianapolis.

The groups filed the complaint on Oct. 23 with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It is part of an amended complaint NFHA and seven member agencies filed Oct. 10 that looks at how Bank of America has differently maintained and marketed properties in white, African-American and Latino neighborhoods across the country.

The groups’ investigation in 13 cities of 505 foreclosed homes owned, serviced or managed by Bank of America found that it allegedly has engaged in a systemic practice of maintaining and marketing its foreclosed, bank-owned homes in a state of disrepair in communities of color while maintaining and marketing REO properties in predominantly white communities in a superior manner.

The investigation evaluated Bank of America REO properties in Atlanta, Charleston, S.C., Chicago, Dallas, Dayton, Ohio, Grand Rapids, Mich., Indianapolis, Miami/Fort Lauderdale, Milwaukee, Oakland/Concord/Richmond, Calif., Orlando, Fla., Phoenix and the Washington, D.C., area.

Shanna L. Smith, CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance, said, “Bank of America is not a good neighbor in communities of color. Instead, one of the nation’s largest holders of foreclosed homes is busy making excuses and passing the buck when it comes to taking responsibility for the homes it owns or services. In many white neighborhoods, Bank of America’s foreclosed properties fit in with most other homes for sale on the block, with manicured lawns and “for sale” signs. African-American and Latino neighborhoods deserve equal treatment.”

But in those neighborhoods, according to the complaint, Bank of America’s properties have broken windows and doors, water damage, overgrown lawns, no “for sale” signs, litter and other problems.

In Indianapolis, 100 percent of Bank of America REO properties in communities of color were missing a “for sale” sign as well as 79 percent in Chicago and 87 percent in Milwaukee, according to the complaint.

In Indianapolis 71 percent of all Bank of America REO properties in communities of color had substantial amounts of trash as well as 52 percent in Chicago and 33 percent in Milwaukee, according to the complaint.

Also, in Indianapolis, 57 percent of properties in communities of color had broken doors or locks, while in Chicago the figure hit 55 percent and in Milwaukee 41 percent of properties had that deficiency.