Photo courtesy of Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development
Comptroller Joseph Otting and Congressman Greg Meeks discuss the CRA in Jamaica after a tour that focused on bank housing access.

Members of the federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency toured Jamaica on Aug. 21 as part of a nationwide tour in search of ideas to reform the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), a federal law designed to stop discriminatory credit practices against low-income neighborhoods known as redlining.

The Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development (ANHD) invited community advocates to lead the Comptroller Joseph Otting to several sites in the neighborhood that show how the legislation is and is not working in the area.

The CRA regulations require Federal regulators to assess how banks decide where they open charters and branches. The community organizations, including members of Chaya CDC, Greater Jamaica Development Corporation and the Fifth Avenue Committee showed Otting areas in the neighborhood that lacked bank branches and how that can result in gaps in housing loans.

“When the CRA began, many communities were left out,” said Congressman Gregory Meeks, joining the tour after the buses arrived at Harvest Room for a comment period. “Some communities like this one are becoming banking deserts again.”

During the tour, the bus drove down Guy R. Brewer Boulevard, where the advocates pointed out where check cashers, pawn shops and private ATM machines that ultimately cost the consumer fees has popped up in the absence of any bank branches.

The dearth of banking institutions was only emphasized by the fact that the boulevard is lined with homes, small businesses and community spaces. The relatively high level of homeownership in Southeast Queens’ stretches back over decades of activism. In the early 70s homeowners banded together to picket a real estate agencies that they accused of blockbusting, a practice where an agent claims that property values will drop because members of minority groups are moving into the neighborhood.

“Were it not for the banking products as a result of the CRA, it would not be possible for our homeowners to buy their homes,” said Lori Miller, the interim executive director of Neighborhood Housing Services of Jamaica. “But, there is more banks can be doing, especially in Southeast Queens where bank branches are sparse and non-traditional lenders are prevalent. We need affordable mortgages with down payment assistance and home improvement loans to help people purchase and remain in their homes.”

Meanwhile, Jagpreet Singh, a tenant organizer at Chhaya CDC, said that predatory practices of real estate companies in the area continue to push renters toward financial insecurity.

“Afro-Caribbean, South Asian, African-American communities helped build up Jamaica into the powerhouse it is now,” said “Widespread deregulation of apartments and harassing of tenants in buildings owned by groups like Zara Realty are displacing the folks who built up and revitalized this community.”

At the post-tour discussion, Otting said that he expected his agency to release proposal on the changes it plans to make to the CRA in September. Once these proposals are released, Otting encouraged residents of Jamaica to submit their comments on the new regulations.

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