Testimony on Need for CIT Group and OneWest Bank to Develop Stronger CRA Plan

The testimony of Stephon Taylor, Director of Programs with California Resources and Training (CARAT), about the proposed OneWest and CIT Group merger, is featured in its entirety below. If you were unable to attend the hearing, CRC live-blogged it here and you may also find our CIT Group/OneWest Merger resource page help.  It outlines why 21,000 people are opposing this merger along with 100 California and national organizations. Pictures of the rally against the merger are available here.

February 26, 2015

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today.  I will keep my comments brief.

I am Stephon Taylor, Director of Programs with California Resources and Training (CARAT), a 19 year old economic development non-profit in California.  CARAT’s primary focus over the last 19 years has been research and development, and program design and implementation as it relates to Technical Assistance (TA) services for small businesses in underserved communities in California. CARAT provides technology solutions training to over 3,000 small businesses. The majority of the small businesses that we serve have less than $1 million in annual revenues and fewer than 10 employees.

California has a vast underserved population of small businesses needing access to capital as well as management and technical assistance (TA) support services to assist them in starting and sustaining their business operations.  They need affordable capital and appropriate financing vehicles.

The economic downturn in the country hit California as well and many of the existing businesses are still in need of restructuring and stabilization assistance. Additionally many people out of work turned to self employment as an option and need (TA) assistance to grow and expand their businesses.

My concerns around the proposed merger OneWest/CIT merger are as follows:

  1. Lack of banking access in LMI communities. Only two of the banks’ 73 branches are in low income census tracts, and one of those branches is slated to close post-merger. Our work with our small business constituency has shown that physical branch locations are a necessity. Mobile banking, while a great supplemental tool, is not a substitution for physical branches.
  2. The banks’ track record of performance related to community development. In the past, both OneWest and CIT have made minimal contributions to support technical assistance and economic development. Without a definitive and robust CRA plan to address those areas, I don’t see how the merger meets the “conveniences and needs” of the affected communities.
  3. The banks’ track record of performance related to small business lending. The majority of OneWest’s small business lending has been to businesses with over $1M in revenue, and they have not committed to serving smaller businesses. Their publicly stated goals to increase their lending to businesses with revenue under $1M have also fallen short of the mark.

In conclusion, my concern is that OneWest/CIT needs to bring products and services into California that fit the market needs of our small business owners, which aren’t adequately served by their current product mix.  My second concern is that there is a miniscule commitment, if any, to supporting, in a philanthropic way, economic development and business TA services that are needed.

California is always in need of more great corporate citizens. CARAT would welcome the opportunity to work with OneWest/CIT to meet the needs of the underserved small businesses within the state.

However, there is an immediate need for OneWest/CIT to develop a more robust, comprehensive and public CRA plan that details the commitments they will make to their California constituency.

I would urge that a philanthropic and community benefit commitment is made by OneWest/CIT to California that truly supports the needs of California Small Businesses.

Delays by Financial Freedom Cost Family Heir Extra Money with Reverse Mortgage

The testimony of Elizabeth Lavulo, a surviving family member of a OneWest reverse mortgage borrower, about the proposed OneWest and CIT Group merger, is featured in its entirety below. If you were unable to attend the hearing, CRC live-blogged it here and you may also find our CIT Group/OneWest Merger resource page helpful as well. Pictures of the rally against the merger are available here.

TESTIMONY OF ELIZABETH LAVULO

PUBLIC MEETING FEBRUARY 26, 2015, 8 AM to 4 PM

FEDERAL RESERVE BANK, LOS ANGELES BRANCH

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.  My testimony is in opposition to the proposed merger of OneWest Bank and CIT Financial.

My name is Elizabeth Lavulo.  My family property is located in Salt Lake City, Utah.  I am a Marketing and PR Executive.

When my Grandmother was sold a reverse mortgage her conditional acceptance was for her family to retain the property after her death.

When she passed away, I did everything according to HUD regulations to repay the loan.

Beginning with the repayment letter, One West Bank (OWB):

Did not provide a Single Point of Contact or anyone helpful.

OWB said they didn’t get my documents – time after time.  THEY DID

OWB claimed I did not have legal authority to speak to them or act on behalf of my grandmother’s estate – I DID

OWB Accelerated foreclosure 4 months after my Grandmother’s death

OWB refused to honor my letter of intent to repay the loan and refused to grant me the HUD authorized time to obtain a new loan.

I provided proof of loan approval multiple times

The OWB response:  3 attempts to auction the property in 6 weeks – on September 17th, October 17th and October 31st 2014.  It was only stopped with hours to spare by HUD intervention.

Escrow proceeded and certified funds were sent per the OWB loan payoff statement.

OWB refused to accept the certified funds and demanded additional legal fees because OWB chose to list the property for auction a 4th time.  OWB’s statement to escrow “If the additional fees for listing the property for auction are not paid immediately OWB will return the certified funds and auction the property.”

In order to close the loan I was forced to pay $2,015.60 in foreclosure related costs and legal fees for the decision of OWB to accelerate foreclosure and auction 4 times.

My story in illustrative of OneWest Bank’s refusal to allow consumers to repay reverse mortgage loans with certified funds, to accelerate foreclosure, and violate all federal regulations and consumer rights.

I request an Investigation, audit, and review of OWB Reverse Mortgage Loan Files

  • For the servicing violations of Federal Regulations and consumer rights
  • To ensure compliance with existing laws and regulations.

Thank You!

Documented evidence of my testimony can be provided upon request.

Why Are Advocates Opposing the OneWest and CIT Group Merger?

Editor’s note: When the Federal Reserve and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency announced they were holding a public hearing on the proposed merger of OneWest Bank and CIT Group, the regulators also extended the comment period on this merger.  CRC’s fifth letter, outlining why CRC continues to oppose this merger, is included below.  For earlier letters, visit our Merger Resource page.  To see pictures from a rally held during the hearing, click here.

February 24, 2015

Re: CRC’s 5th comment letter: Continuing opposition to CIT Group application to acquire IMB and OneWest Bank and to merge OneWest and CIT Bank

 Dear Chairs Yellen and Gruenberg, Directors Watt and Cordray, Comptroller Curry, and Secretary Castro,

The California Reinvestment Coalition writes this fifth comment letter expressing our continuing opposition to the proposed acquisition of IMB and OneWest Bank (OWB) by CIT Group. OneWest has not met, and will not meet, community credit needs, and the Applicants have not established that this merger will provide a public benefit.

This letter is written to provide additional information for the public record, to inform the deliberations of the FRB and OCC, and to raise continuing concerns about the negative impacts of OneWest Bank on California communities.

The California Reinvestment Coalition (CRC), based in San Francisco, is a non-profit membership organization of community based non-profit organizations and public agencies across the state of California. We work with community-based organizations to promote the economic revitalization of California’s low-income communities and communities of color through access to equitable and low cost financial services. CRC promotes increased access to credit for affordable housing and community economic development, and to financial services for these communities.

Continuing unanswered questions: HUD FOIA Request

As noted previously, there are still many unanswered questions regarding this merger and these institutions. CRC still awaits a substantive response to our FOIA request to HUD to gather information about HUD’s oversight and policies relating to reverse mortgages, and the servicing practices of Financial Freedom in particular.

Specifically, we have sought basic information about the number, nature and resolution of complaints filed by consumers with HUD against Financial Freedom. We have also sought data on the number of foreclosures processed by Financial Freedom since OneWest took over ownership, including the number of such foreclosures processed against non-borrower surviving spouses, as well as the number of loans being serviced by Financial Freedom where a younger spouse was not listed on the loan and is therefore at risk of foreclosure.

If the FDIC, OCC, or Federal Reserve consumer complaint departments would like to share data on complaints they’ve received (as consumers aren’t always aware which regulator to turn to), then we would welcome that transparency.  We note that in the cases of Michelle Ayers and her sister Mary Dambacher, from North Fort Meyers, Florida- (surviving family members who encountered a host of servicing issues with Financial Freedom), they report being sent on a wild goose chase- not just by Financial Freedom, but also by the regulatory agencies where they sought help.  They started at HUD, where they were referred to a housing counseling agency, which couldn’t help because the loan was a reverse mortgage, then referred to the Florida Office of Financial Regulation which referred them to the OCC, which then directed them to the CFPB.

This FOIA request seeks information that must be considered by the banking regulators in order to determine whether OneWest bank is meeting the credit needs, and the convenience and needs, of its communities. How can the Federal Reserve and the OCC determine that OneWest is meeting the needs of its communities if it does not know how many foreclosures were processed by OneWest and its affiliates? This information should be part of the public record.

And yet, our FOIA request has been stalled as HUD has chosen to deny our request for a fee waiver on the grounds that CRC has a “commercial interest” in the information. This is difficult for our nonprofit organization to understand and accept. This denial and the delay in releasing the FOIA requested data merely add to the sense that with regard to this merger, there is something to hide, and the regulators, rather than increasing transparency for communities, are making details of this merger more opaque.

Bank supporters and opponents

 CRC wishes to supplement the public record to reflect that OneWest’s CEO has sought support from his Wall Street contacts and business partners in order to tout his message regarding his own management performance and desire not to have public hearings.

A few weeks ago, Bloomberg reported that OneWest CEO Joseph Otting had emailed community groups and Wall Street contacts, urging recipients to support the bank’s application by sending a letter to Fed Chair Janet Yellen.[1]

The draft letter of support found on the OneWest website and presumably drafted under the direction of CEO Joseph Otting reads as follows:

Dear Chair Yellen, President Dudley and Comptroller Curry,

I am writing to offer my support for the pending OneWest and CIT merger. OneWest serves as a strong source of capital and banking services to the Southern California community. This merger will retain and create new jobs in California. I believe the management team and OneWest have demonstrated its commitment to our community and to serving the needs of not only their clients but the community at large and due to this, I do not believe there is a need for a public hearing.

The draft email indicates that proposed commenters “believe the management team and OneWest have demonstrated its commitment to our community and to serving the needs of not only their clients but the community at large…”

As Bloomberg reports this email went out to Wall Street contacts, CRC wonders how knowledgeable about community needs these commenters will be, and how much weight the regulators will give these comments.

Further, CRC understands that several of the “supporters” are actual business partners and employees of OneWest. How objectively can these “supporters” speak to the bank’s service to the community, and how much weight will the bank regulators give to these comments?

Similarly, certain community groups are supporting the bank in its application, and have indicated they are developing partnerships with the bank.

In the application by Banc of California to purchase Banco Popular branches, the OCC requested and Banc of California provided a public list of grants to non-profit organizations over the prior two (2) years by month, organization and amount. The regulators should request the same of OneWest Bank – that it identify, by month, the level of support to all organizations receiving grants or investments or contracts, and for what purpose, for the last 2 years. Applicant submitted somewhat similar information in a letter dated October 2014, but the information appears to be incomplete, is broken out only by year and not month, and it is unclear how far into 2014 the data go. OneWest should be required to complete this exercise through February 2015, providing, by month through February 2015, a list of all groups with which it has a funding, investing or contractual relationship since the time it began to promote this proposed merger.

And for the record, CRC notes that approximately 100 organizations from California and from around the country are opposing this merger, as well as over 21,000 individuals and counting, making this, most likely, the most opposed bank merger in history.

CRC thanks the regulators for agreeing to hold one public hearing on this merger, which we believe reflects a recognition of the extent of the opposition to this merger and the many serious issues at play.

Financial Freedom: New complaint data and continuing concerns

CRC review of CFPB consumer complaint data reveals that approximately 150 complaints were filed against OneWest noting concerns with the sub product “reverse mortgage”. This represents roughly 12% of the number of reverse mortgage complaints that CFPB analyzed in its recent study on reverse mortgages.[2] Again, these CFPB complaints are likely completely independent of any complaints field against Financial Freedom with HUD, a more logical place for consumers to complain given HUD’s oversight of HECMs. We look forward to understanding how many complaints against Financial Freedom have been filed with HUD, though given the story cited earlier in this letter, we also suspect that the number of complaints actually filed is lower than the number of people who would like to complain if they had the time, capacity, and knowledge of where to complain, and if they were directed to the correct regulator.

(Further, a recent visit to the CFPB consumer complaint database now reveals a total of 1,226 complaints filed against OneWest, significantly more than we had noted in earlier comment letters.)

OneWest’s Financial Freedom reverse mortgage servicer affiliate continues to be the subject of reports suggesting potential abuses and community harm. On January 8, 2015, Fox 4 in North Fort Meyers, Florida,  reported on the case of Mary Damacher, who chained her sister Michelle Ayers to a pipe in the home that was first purchased by their grandparents, then passed down to her mother, until Financial Freedom foreclosed on them. The sisters attempted to purchase the home, but were reportedly rebuffed in their efforts by Financial Freedom.

“I’ve been preapproved for a mortgage and had all the paperwork taken care of to repurchase the home, and basically Financial Freedom and One West Bank has refused me the right to purchase my home,” Mary said.[3]

This case, and the others cited in prior letters, raise serious questions and concerns about how well Financial Freedom is complying with existing obligations to serve reverse mortgage borrowers, surviving spouses AND, as here, heirs who have certain rights to purchase the home.

Specifically:

  • What is HUD doing to oversee Financial Freedom foreclosures with regard to borrowers, surviving spouses, and heirs?
  • Will OneWest submit any losses from this foreclosure for reimbursement under the loss share agreement? How does the FDIC determine whether loss share reimbursement submissions by OneWest reflect losses suffered only after OneWest did all it could to mitigate them, and certainly only after OneWest followed existing laws and regulations? Is the FDIC aware of any situations or cases where OneWest Bank submitted a claim for costs related to a foreclosure, but then due to legal action or legal settlements, OneWest Bank later returned the reimbursement to the FDIC, or should have reimbursed the FDIC? As an example, consider the story of the San Luis Obispo couple, where OneWest eventually offered to settle for what was reported as a “seven figure sum.”  Had OneWest already requested reimbursement for any losses on this mortgage from the FDIC?  Is the FDIC fully confident it never paid out shared loss reimbursements for faulty foreclosures like this one?
  • How does the OCC, as OneWest’s primary regulator, oversee compliance issues with regard to Financial Freedom, and how do improper foreclosures via OneWest or Financial Freedom, impacting borrowers, surviving spouses, heirs and other family members impact (if at all) the OCC’s determination as to whether OneWest is servicing its communities under the Community Reinvestment Act?
  • How will the OCC and the Fed investigate and consider improper foreclosures by OneWest and Financial Freedom in determining whether this merger, absent any substantial conditions imposed, will provide a public benefit, as required?

An audit of Financial Freedom foreclosures and other non-home retention loss mitigation outcomes is necessary. In the meantime, Financial Freedom should not be allowed to process further foreclosures without going through a “notice and objection” process whereby an independent third party can confirm that proposed foreclosures are proper. A similar structure was created by the Massachusetts Attorney General in enforcing servicing obligations by Fremont Investment and Loan.[4]

Merger Decision Should Await Next FDIC Loss Share Compliance Review:

In a letter to CRC dated February 5, 2015, the FDIC reiterates that it believes it has no authority in the approval process relating to this merger, that estimates of future payments under the Loss Share Agreement are projections and subject to change, and that OneWest “is not out of compliance” with the loss share agreement.[5]

Importantly, the letter also indicates the next compliance review is scheduled to commence in May of 2015, in approximately three months.

We urge the FDIC to conduct an extensive audit of OneWest’s performance under the loss share agreement, and to make the results of this audit public, including providing a description of the extent to which the FDIC is able to verify that all OneWest foreclosures for which OneWest seeks reimbursement under the loss share agreement could not have been avoided through the provision of a loan modification or otherwise and were the result of OneWest and affiliates fully complying with all relevant loss mitigation and foreclosure prevention laws and rules, including importantly, provisions within the California Homeowners Bill of Rights that address dual-tracking, Single Point of Contact, and other servicer practices that push people into foreclosure.

CRC continues to believe that the FDIC audit and compliance review process does not provide sufficient due diligence to ensure that all OWB foreclosures were proper and unavoidable. This is most likely also true for the foreclosure oversight currently provided by the Federal Reserve and OCC for its regulated servicers and trustees.

Further, we strongly urge the Federal Reserve and the OCC to await the results of the FDIC audit before deciding on this Application. With all of the concern that has been raised about OneWest’s foreclosure practices, including testimony that will be presented at the public hearing on February 26, awaiting the FDIC audit (and response from HUD to our FOIA request) is the only prudent course.

        Systemic Risk and lobbying

CRC has maintained that the potential failure of CIT and OneWest poses a systemic risk to the financial system under current standards.

In 2008, another entity expressed concerned about CIT failing, saying, “CIT, … its demise poses a systemic danger because that would jeopardize 760 of its manufacturing customers and cause serious harm to more than 300,000 retailers, according to Bloomberg.”[6]

The entity that held that view in 2008 was none other than CIT Group itself as it sought a rescue from the federal government. This request was turned down and $2.3 billion in TARP funds was not enough to save CIT from declaring bankruptcy and wiping out its obligation to repay TARP. Is CIT truly LESS interconnected now than it was in 2008 when its interconnectedness led to bankruptcy?  If CIT were allowed to merge with OneWest, the resulting institution would be even larger, as would the risks created for communities, and possibly taxpayers as well.

Perhaps that was then and this is now, and CIT is no longer worried about systemic risk.

But according to Center for Responsive Politics, CIT Group spent $4,920,000 over the last two years on lobbying, or more than $6,400 a day. And one of the issues CIT lobbied on most heavily was – systemic risk.[7]

We urge the regulators to tread carefully in deciding whether to approve a new SIFI comprised of two institutions that failed in the recent past, and which rely on significant public subsidy.

Circumvention of CRA: NOT reinvesting where depositors reside

CRC has long argued that depository financial institutions must reinvest where their depositors live and are sending in deposits. The CRA has been circumvented and communities have suffered from a lack of investment by institutions like Capital One, ING, Countrywide Bank, Charles Schwab Bank, H&R Block Bank, etc.

CIT Bank similarly collects deposits from throughout the country, but reinvests primarily in its Salt Lake City assessment area. It would be interesting to know what percentage of CIT Bank’s billions in deposits actually originate from Salt Lake City, and how many communities are sending in more deposits to CIT Bank than are coming from the Bank’s lone assessment area.

The proposed CITBNA’s CRA Plan went from bad to worse when it determined that ALL of its deposits, including internet deposits originating from throughout the country, would be assigned to the Los Angeles MSA.

While this might seem like a good thing for Los Angeles, such circumvention of the CRA has only hurt Los Angeles and our state in the past and will likely do so in the future.

CITBNA must reinvest in its top deposit markets, even if outside of California, and the regulators should make this so. This issue is all the more pressing in that OneWest maintains a poor branch presence in LMI communities (its 15% of branches in LMI neighborhoods is HALF the industry average in California), and promises to move towards mobile banking as a way of serving LMI communities. We do not believe this will be a successful approach, and if all mobile banking deposits are assigned to one assessment area, we do not believe this will be consistent with the CRA. A recent report by the FDIC notes that, “…there is little evidence that the emergence of new electronic channels for delivering banking services has substantially diminished the need for traditional branch offices where banking relationships are built.”[8]

One Los Angeles based leader who runs a community based organization that would stand to benefit from the Bank’s proposal to reinvest mainly in Los Angeles had the following to say about the Bank’s plan to reinvest deposits from other communities into Los Angeles:

“While we’d love the $$$ for southern California, I’m reminded of how Dorothy Richardson and her neighbors in Pittsburgh first staged a series of “sit-ins” at local banks because of the redlining in their neighborhood.  Every neighborhood matters.  Every family matters.  Out of the strength of her convictions, Dorothy succeeded and the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation and NeighborWorks Network were formed.  We must stand for what is right on behalf of all of our neighbors to ensure justice for everyone.  Seems fitting during Black History Month.”

Additionally, the Applicant’s proposed CRA Plan notes that it will designate only one CRA assessment area for full scope review. We note that City National Bank and East West Bank, two banks that have been identified as peers of OneWest, have three and two full scope review assessment areas, respectively. A bank as big as the proposed CITBNA should have more than one full scope review assessment area.

       Conclusion

The regulators must properly weigh the comments of supporters and opponents, scrutinize the foreclosure practices of OneWest Bank and Financial Freedom, fully analyze the extent to which this merger threatens financial stability, and require the bank to negotiate and develop a CRA Plan commensurate with its size and national deposit base, before rubber stamping this proposed merger. We believe this transaction represents a threat to financial stability with huge costs and subsidies, and no public benefit.

Thank you for your consideration of these views. Please feel free to contact me at (415) 864-3980 if you wish to discuss this matter further.

Very Truly Yours,

Kevin Stein

Paulina Gonzalez

cc:           Jan Owen, Commissioner, California Department of Business Oversight

Ivan J. Hurwitz, Vice President, FRB NY, comments.applications@ny.frb.org

David Finnegan, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, WE.Licensing@occ.treas.gov

All COMMENTERS

[1] Matthew Monks and Elizabeth Dexheimer, “OneWest Seeks Wall Street’s Help Lobbying Yellen on CIT,” Bloomberg, January 8, 2015.

[2] The CFPB study reviewed approximately 1200 reverse mortgage complaints that were filed on its website from December 2011 through December 2104. See, Office of Older Americans, “Snapshot of reverse mortgage complaints: December 2011 – December 2014,” Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, February 2014.

[3] Lisa Greenberg, “NFM sisters chained to home to protest reverse mortgage,” Fox4, January 8, 2015, at http://www.jrn.com/fox4now/news/NFM-sisters-chained-to-home-to-protest-reverse-mortgage-287977331.html

[4] Press release, “Attorney General Martha Coakley Reaches $10 Million Settlement with Subprime Lender Fremont Investment and Loan,” June 9, 2009.

[5] FDIC Letter to CRC Re: Application by CIT Group (CIT) to purchase IMB, the parent company of OneWest Bank, National Association (OWB), and to merger CIT Bank into OWB,” February 5, 2015.

[6] Alain Sherter, “CIT Group: Too Small to Save – Or Not,” MONEYWATCH, July 15, 2009.

[7] Open Secretes, “CIT Group,” Center for Responsive Politics, at: http://www.opensecrets.org/orgs/summary.php?id=D000024786

[8] Press release, “Branch Banking Remains Prevalent Despite Growth of Online and Mobile Banking,“ FDIC, February 19, 2015.

LA City Council Member Gil Cedillo Speaks Against Proposed OneWest Bank Merger

Last Thursday, the Federal Reserve and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency held a public hearing about the proposed merger of OneWest Bank with CIT Group.  During a lunch-time rally, LA City leaders, including Council Member Gil Cedillo, spoke about the need for the banks to create a much stronger Community Reinvestment plan, that reflects the bank’s nearly $70 billion in assets.

The current plan offered by OneWest Bank and CIT Group is a fraction of what both its peer banks and even smaller banks have committed to. If you were unable to attend the hearing, CRC live-blogged it here and you may also find our CIT Group/OneWest Merger resource page helpful as well. Pictures are available here.

Below is the video of Council Member Cedillo speaking about the merger.

Testimony Against OneWest and CIT Group Merger by Isela Gracian at ELACC

The testimony of Isela Gracian, Vice President of Operations for East LA Community Corporation (ELACC) about the proposed OneWest and CIT Group merger is featured in its entirety below. If you were unable to attend the hearing, CRC live-blogged it here and you may also find our CIT Group/OneWest Merger resource page helpful as well. Pictures are available here.

TESTIMONY OF ISELA GRACIAN, VP OF OPERATIONS AT EAST LA COMMUNITY CORPORATION

Good morning and thank you for hosting this hearing. My name is Isela Gracian and I am the Vice President of Operations for East LA Community Corporation (ELACC). ELACC is an economic and social justice organization serving the Eastside of Los Angeles for 20 years. We serve over 5,000 working class Latino families annually through our different programs and services. ELACC provides quality affordable housing to over 2,000 individuals in our affordable housing developments. Through our work we have leveraged over $124 million in investment for affordable housing and community assets to the Eastside of Los Angeles.

For decades the neighborhoods and residents we serve have lacked the needed investment to keep up with housing needs. In February of last year, the California Housing Partnership Corporation released a study highlighting how the housing market is failing to meet the need of low-income families in California.

In the Los Angeles County alone we have a deficit of nearly 400,000 homes for extremely low income renters; these are the most vulnerable residents in our neighborhoods. The families able to secure an affordable housing rental unit go from being rent burden with spending an average of 70% of their monthly income for rent to paying 30% of their income for rent. Affordable housing provides stability to families while enhancing the assets of neighborhoods.

While we believe that the large banks have failed to do their fair share of investment for affordable housing development, at least some have made efforts to improve access to capital and be partners is closing the affordable housing gap for low-income families. In these efforts one player has been absent, that player is OneWest. In their portfolio of products, OneWest does not have a multifamily loan product and CIT already has plans to phase out their Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC).

OneWest and CIT were saved by US taxpayer subsidies and they have failed to return the investment to the communities they are required to serve.

With so many families on the brink of homelessness because they are severely rent burdened we need every large bank reinvesting in the community.

Therefore, I urge the Federal Reserve to require that CIT and OneWest develop a comprehensive and public CRA plan with commitments proportionate to the size of the new bank and that it is informed by broad community input.

Thank you.

Kevin Stein Testimony at OneWest and CIT Group Proposer Merger Hearing in Los Angeles

The testimony of Kevin Stein, associate director of the California Reinvestment Coalition, about the proposed OneWest and CIT Group merger is featured in its entirety below. If you were unable to attend the hearing, CRC live-blogged it here and you may also find our CIT Group/OneWest Merger resource page helpful as well. Pictures are available here.

Kevin Stein Testimony

Thank you to the Federal Reserve and the OCC for holding this hearing and for the opportunity to testify.  My name is Kevin Stein, I work at the California Reinvestment Coalition  (CRC). I have been at CRC for 15 years, and I have seen many mergers, but this is the most problematic and outrageous merger I have seen

The last time we were here for a merger was in 2008 when Bank of America purchased Countrywide. We opposed that merger and argued that Bank of America would be left processing numerous foreclosures and harming families without any meaningful commitment to the community.

The regulators approved that merger with no significant conditions. Nothing changed. Bank of America kept foreclosing on Countrywide loans, and inadequate reinvestment failed to mitigate harms.  Six years from now, people will look back on this hearing and this merger to see if the regulators got it right this time.

Here, there is much private gain, much public subsidy, but no public benefit.

Based on the limited data provided by OneWest, our analysis finds they are towards the bottom of the pack, and below their peers, in meeting community credit needs and reinvesting in neighborhoods.

The Bank’s CRA performance has been poor, and its promises not much better.

As one example, according to the Bank’s own CRA strategic plan, which the bank sought to keep confidential, affordable housing is identified as a critical need.

But what has the Bank done to address this need? It has devoted little of its already small pool of contributions for affordable housing, its home lending record is weak and disparate, it does not offer a multi-family loan product, and it may participate only in a limited way in the Low Income Housing Tax Credits program

With such strong nonprofit capacity in its assessment area, the bank’s performance is shameful, and represents a wasted opportunity to address critical housing needs.  The Bank appears not to have met all of the goals it set for itself in its secret, Strategic Plan. Without a clear, public and strong CRA Plan, how can communities hold the bank accountable, and why would we expect things to be any different this time?

Foreclosures are also deeply concerning.  It would be bad enough if OneWest Bank (OWB) merely did a poor job meeting community credit needs.

But in fact, OWB helped create community credit needs through mass foreclosures that inflicted great harm on families and communities. We estimate that OWB has processed over 35,000 foreclosures in California alone. In addition, the Bank has foreclosed on 2,000 reverse mortgage borrowing seniors, their widows and heirs in our state, and continues to do so, as you will hear more about later today.

In fact, the main way in which OneWest engages with LMI communities is through foreclosure.

OWB has been a “terrible” servicer. In our surveys of housing counselors over the years, OWB was frequently cited as among the worst:

  • In 2010, OWB was the deemed the worst at offering loan mods
  • In 2011, OWB got the most votes for being a “terrible” servicer
  • In 2012, OWB got the 2nd most votes for worst servicer
  • In addition, there are over 1,000 CFPB consumer complaints against OWB, including 150 complaints about its reverse mortgage servicing, about 12% of all reverse mortgage complaints

In his testimony, Joseph Otting talks as if OneWest foreclosures are a passive endeavor, that OneWest fell into a number of loans that are subject to rules he wishes were different. But this exactly what OneWest signed up for. They bought a foreclosure machine, negotiating a sweetheart loss share agreement with the FDIC. And they have profited handsomely from this foreclosure machine

We are urging the regulators that:

  • OneWest’s foreclosure practices need to be reviewed and improved.
  • OneWest should not be allowed to foreclose on borrowers without 3rd party review,
  • OneWest should stop arguing it need not comply with our state’s Homeowner Bill of Rights
  • OneWest and Financial Freedom should cease all foreclosures on surviving spouses until the law on this issue is settled
  • No decision on this merger should be reached until an audit is done on OneWest’s servicing practices. In fact, we know that the FDIC is conducting a loss share audit of OneWest in May. There should be no decision on this merger until after the results of that audit have been made public.
  • Further, the Fed and the OCC should not approve this merger without substantial conditions imposed requiring the bank to first develop a clear, strong Plan to meet the affordable housing and economic development needs of its communities, with clear benchmarks established, and significant resources devoted to achieve that purpose

The Bank has shown its unwillingness to do this on its own. Without this, the merger provides immense private gain, outrageous amounts of public subsidy, greater systemic risk, but no public benefit, and the merger should be denied.

Thank you

Impacted Homeowners, LA Community Leaders Speak Out Against Proposed Merger of OneWest Bank and CIT Group at Federal Reserve Hearing 

LA Community leaders, harmed homeowners, and advocates all called on the Federal Reserve and OCC to deny the merger unless substanial improvements are made.

LA Community leaders, harmed homeowners, and advocates all called on the Federal Reserve and OCC to deny the merger unless substantial improvements are made.


Feb 27, 2015- Los Angeles- Yesterday, community reinvestment advocates spoke against the proposed merger of CIT Group and OneWest Bank during a day-long hearing hosted by the Federal Reserve and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. Some believe the hearing was held in response to the over 21,000 individuals who signed petitions opposing the merger, in addition to 100 California and national organizations who are opposing the merger. CRC live-tweeted the hearing.

Critics raised concerns at the hearing that can be claified into three main categories.

First, the history of OneWest Bank and CIT Group raises serious questions about how communities would fare if the merger is approved.

Second, promises to help individual nonprofits may be helpful for those nonprofits (especially in the short-term) but they do not constitute a comprehensive, robust, Community Reinvestment Act plan.

Third, communities who have already been harmed, and continued to be harmed by OneWest Bank, are watching the Federal Reserve and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency to see what actions the two regulators take with this merger, and how the regulators will assess the “public benefit” or lack thereof from the merger- something the regulators are required to do.

Troubled History 

Kevin Stein, associate director of the California Reinvestment Coalition, explained that the billionaire investors who bought IndyMac from the FDIC knew they were buying a foreclosure machine.  “Foreclosure is how the majority of Californians know this bank.  And, the owners of OneWest knew they were buying a foreclosure machine because they negotiated a sweetheart deal with the FDIC to get reimbursed for their costs of foreclosing on Californians– to the tune of $1 billion already received, plus another $1.4 billion expected before 2019.”

Roberto Barragan, president and CEO of VEDC, questioned why OneWest bank officials only began reaching out to the community when the merger was announced.  As the Los Angeles Times reported, critics like Barragan believe the recent outreach by OneWest Bank has merely been conducted to “grease the skids” for regulatory approval.

Isela Gracian, Vice President of Operations for East LA Community Corporation raised the $2.3 billion in TARP funds that CIT Group received and never paid back: “OneWest and CIT were saved by US taxpayer subsidies and they have failed to return the investment to the communities they are required to serve.”

Robert Villarreal, Senior Vice President of Community Development for CDC Small Business Finance (the largest SBA 504 and 7(a) Community Advantage lender in the country) also expressed concerns about OneWest’s dismal small business lending record in his testimony:  “In 2013 OneWest made zero loans; that is zero loans for under $100,000 in California (FFIEC website). In that same year here in Los Angeles, only 8 loans were made under $250,000 and less than half the dollars funded were made to businesses located in LMI neighborhoods.”

Promises made to non-profits do not constitute a CRA plan

A number of people from organizations who received grants or promises of grants from OneWest also testified at the hearing to express gratitude for grants they had received from OneWest, for promises that OneWest would do more if the merger was approved, or that a bank official had met with them.

Paulina Gonzalez, executive director of the California Reinvestment Coalition, reminded the audience that individual grants, while helpful for individual nonprofits, are not a replacement for a comprehensive, public, and robust Community Reinvestment Plan.

Gonzalez also pointed out that much smaller banks, like Banc of California, have already committed to stronger reinvestment plans than the current proposal by OneWest and CIT Group.  (See Banc of California’s plan here).

Michael Chan, the president of Asian Inc, raised that CIT Bank is able to track which communities it receives its deposits from, and questioned why the bank wouldn’t use that information to reinvest those deposits in the communities where it receives the money, which is the goal of the Community Reinvestment Act.

Communities Look to Regulators

Consumer attorneys, widowed homeowners, and LA community leaders reminded the Federal Reserve and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency that the regulators ultimately have a responsibility to look out for communities in the merger and to see if there truly is a “public benefit” to the merger.

Cynthia Amador reminded regulators that OneWest has previously closed branches in predominantly Latino communities.

Rachel Mehlak, an attorney from Bet Tzedek, shared the story of an elderly, disabled client, who lives on Social Security and supports her daughter and four grandchildren. She had difficulty keeping up with her property taxes, and despite multiple pleas from her attorney, OneWest’s reverse mortgage subsidiary, Financial Freedom ultimately foreclosed on her: “Three generations of my client’s family were kicked out of their home for less than $1300 owed to Financial Freedom.”

Pictures from the event are available here, and testimony from individual speakers are available upon request, and affected homeowners are also available to speak.