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South Phoenix Leaders Concerned About Possible Community Reinvestment Act Changes

LAUREN GILGER: Later this morning, a growing coalition of community leaders in south Phoenix will hold a press conference to highlight the effect of the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) there. The 1977 law encourages banks to invest in low and moderate income neighborhoods, like south Phoenix, and these groups say it has been essential in helping areas like this grow. Patricia Garcia Duarte is the president and CEO of Trellis, a local community development nonprofit. And, she and others are speaking out about this now because the law may be about to change. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency — or the OCC — is taking public comments right now on the law in an attempt to modernize it. But, community advocates like Garcia Duarte are concerned this might lead to its gutting. I sat down with her earlier this morning in our studios to talk more about it.

PATRICIA GARCIA DUARTE: It is of great concern to us in the community development space. The Arizona CRA Coalition came about because of this advanced notice. There's a lot of members that make up the Arizona CRA Coalition and that list is growing. Our concern is one a lot of folks don't understand and know about Community Reinvestment Act. They don't know that the Community Reinvestment Act has been very good for our communities. We do believe that it needs to be updated. Banking essentially has changed. There's a lot of advancements in the financial sector that don't fit the old 1977, and then it was updated I believe in 1997. It needs to be updated. However, the concern is that there are so many efforts around the country currently going on in deregulating that we cannot afford to weaken the Community Reinvestment Act. We need to strengthen it. Because of the Community Reinvestment Act, many small businesses get financing, and a lot of mortgages get done as a result because they're impacting low and moderate income communities or are going to low and moderate income people. And if the financial institutions are not encouraged to make those loans, we could lose out.

GILGER: So, what are exactly the changes that are being proposed by the Office of the Comptroller here?

GARCIA DUARTE: So, the opportunity is to provide comments. That's what they're looking for right now.

GILGER: So, we don't know exactly what the changes could mean?

GARCIA DUARTE: Well, there are a few things that we understand. But the risk is that it could be gutted out of all the comments say it doesn't work — it just you know it forces banks to do things that they don't want to do — those comments are probably going to come through. But, we need to bring evidence of how critically important they are to our communities.

GILGER: From your perspective, it seems like the CRA and that incentive has been really important in shaping communities like south Phoenix where this press conference will happen later today.

GARCIA DUARTE: You know what, south Phoenix is a perfect example of a community that prior to the Fair Housing Act — it was a place where only low income people could live. There was no decent affordable housing. And because of the Civil Rights Movement, because of some of these laws investment came to the south Phoenix area. And, we’re also going to have a press conference in one location where it's evidence that these types of investments do matter. They make a difference in people's lives.

GILGER: What location is it?

GARCIA DUARTE: It is a single-family development. So we you know part of the American dream is to become a homeowner. And with a right education, the right tools, the right products people can join the American dream of becoming a homeowner. We know from data — the Federal Reserve put some data back in 2015 — and the median homeowner wealth in the nation was $185,400. That's the median wealth of a home owner in this nation. Of renters, median wealth was only 5,400. So it's a huge gap, and that is why home ownership is so important. If we have a weakening of the Community Reinvestment Act, and less interest is in investing in mortgages that means that we will have less tools available to help people achieve that American dream of becoming a homeowner.

GILGER: So, looking forward, you said you're in a comment period for this now. What's next? Is this something that Congress would have to approve changes to?

GARCIA DUARTE: Well, we're surprised, I'm surprised, that only the OCC is doing this. In the past, any updates to the to the Community Reinvestment Act was done in collaboration with the other regulators. I guess the OCC is not waiting to collaborate with either of their regulators. They put this forth, but it's critically important that everyone that is interested in creating better neighborhoods better communities — that they give their opinion, that we give good examples of what has happened in our neighborhoods, in our communities because of investments, because of loans that have been made to small businesses to people for housing developments the difference that it makes.

GILGER: All right. Patricia Garcia Duarte is the president and CEO of Trellis. Patricia, thank you so much for coming in to talk about this this morning.

GARCIA DUARTE: You're welcome.

Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.