For the first time, Citicorp Mortgage Inc., America's largest lender to homebuyers, is calling on real estate agents in black areas, hiring black attorneys and using black real estate appraisers in Atlanta.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Dec. 4 that Citicorp had invited only real estate agents in white areas to join the referral network for MortgagePower, its main loan program, according to internal Citicorp documents. The company also had an entirely white sales force, an entirely white corps of real estate attorneys and an entirely white group of real estate appraisers, according to Citicorp documents and employees.
Citicorp will make several changes in response to the article, said Betsy Martin, assistant vice president of public affairs for Citicorp Mortgage, a subsidiary of Citicorp, the largest banking company in America.
-- Citicorp will begin soliciting black real estate agents. The company's national sales manager from St. Louis, Len Druger, said he has scheduled a "Citicorp revival meeting" in Atlanta on Jan. 4 to meet with leaders of the Empire Real Estate Board, the association of black real estate agents.
-- The company has begun referring business to black lawyers. It has rearranged its list of approved lawyers alphabetically. That moves Atlanta City Council President Marvin S. Arrington, a black lawyer, to the top. He had been listed last -- with no address or telephone number but with the notation "political" -- and had complained that his phone calls to the company had not been returned.
"Now Mr. Arrington has risen to the appropriate alphabetical position," Mr. Druger said.
Mr. Arrington said, "Citicorp called to apologize. If they send us closings, we'll be glad to do business with them."
-- Citicorp also has begun to accept applications from black real estate appraisers. The Journal-Constitution reported in May and again this month that the company was using only white appraisers.
Legal experts had told the Journal-Constitution that Citicorp's marketing practices apparently violated the federal Fair Housing Act, which prohibits housing lenders from actions with a racially discriminatory effect, even if no discriminatory intent is proved.
"Clearly we are concerned that people think there is a problem, and we want to do what we can to clear it up, even if we didn't think it was a problem," Ms. Martin said. "We were surprised to find that there were some people you mentioned in the article who didn't know about our program. Some of those people have contacted us. We will contact others -- not only real estate firms but also vendors such as appraisers and attorneys."
Leaders of the black real estate board expressed skepticism that Citicorp actually wanted their business. They pointed out that they called Citicorp after the article appeared; Citicorp did not call them.
"I'm not sure they're really interested in business on the south side of town," said Miller Johnson Jr., former president of the Empire board. "They might do it from a public relations standpoint."
"This is not a PR effort," Ms. Martin responded. "We're in the business to make loans. We want to make them wherever we can."Go to the next article or back to the Color of Money index or Power Reporting
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