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The Color of Money

Editorials and Letters

The Case of the Elusive Mortgages

The Atlanta Constitution

Published December 8, 1988, Editorial Page, Page A18

Copyright 1988, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

For a tidy example of the self-fulfilling prophecy, consider that Citicorp Mortgage apparently has been seeking prime mortgage prospects in Atlanta by soliciting only white real estate agents in overwhelmingly white residential areas.

If a company were absolutely committed to sustaining the proposition that property values are low and chancy where blacks live -- and certainly there's no evidence Citicorp believes or intends such a thing -- the company would behave as Citicorp Mortgage appears to, in effect making it more difficult for black home buyers and home sellers than for white ones to take advantage of a process designed to expedite home mortgage loans.

Citicorp Mortgage says a list showing it solicited only white and white-area agents and brokers for its premium MortgagePower program is out of date, though the company has so far declined to provide a current list. The company also says it is proud of its record of dealings with black agents, yet some of Atlanta's leading black real estate brokers -- including one who has sold more than $1 million in property annually for 12 years running -- report no contact from the company.

Citicorp's MortgagePower cuts the origination referral fee, time and paperwork for a home loan. The program brought Citicorp Mortgage from being a relatively minor player in the industry just eight years ago to its position as the nation's leading mortgage lender last year.

Whites who remain honestly mystified by racial disparities that they are at a loss to explain except by supposed racial differences should have no trouble with this one.

If access to the nation's leading mortgage lender is overwhelmingly in the hands of white brokers and agencies working in overwhelmingly white areas, you may be sure that blacks trying to sell homes in predominately black areas will have a difficult time exercising the option.

The inevitable results are more trouble in securing loans and getting approval for loans of appropriate size, and more delays and frustrations in the process. It becomes more difficult even in well-off black areas -- and Atlanta has many of those -- to sustain property values under those conditions.

Citicorp Mortgage denies any such effect or intent, but the pattern is strong in its solicitations list, and, according to company documents and employees, Citicorp's MortgagePower program for Georgia is run from an office at Perimeter Center with a staff of all-white sales personnel, real estate attorneys and appraisers.

There is no particular reason to doubt Citicorp Mortgage's professed good intentions. If the intentions are genuine, the means are obvious enough.


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