October 9, 2014

A Victory for a Fairer Housing Market


When we hear that a mother is on maternity leave, most of us smile and realize it’s a special time in that family’s life. But what HUD has found is that often banks hear something else—they hear something that in a steady stream of cases has led lenders to deny, stall or question the home mortgage loans for expecting families.

In many cases, it wasn’t the family’s credit or income that stalled the loans—it was simply the words “maternity leave.” Today, HUD announced a settlement with a national lender over alleged maternity leave lending discrimination—this time with Wells Fargo, the nation’s largest home mortgage company. As part of the settlement, Wells Fargo will compensate families who experienced discrimination because they were pregnant or on maternity leave when they applied for a loan. There are more details included in the settlement which I encourage you to read at HUD.gov.

In settling these cases, HUD has been able to get significant relief for families and also, just as important, to change bank policies around the country.

In these investigations, we’ve seen allegations that lenders denied or delayed loans to women who were pregnant or on maternity leave based solely on assumptions that they were unwilling or unable to return to work after giving birth, or that they could not afford mortgage payments while on leave, even when there was paid leave. It’s unquestionably wrong that a family would unfairly lose out on buying a home or refinancing a loan at any time, but especially at a time when they need it most.

Since 2010, HUD has conducted an intensive campaign to end maternity leave-related lending discrimination. This is done under the Fair Housing Act. We’ve opened more than 15 maternity leave discrimination investigations this year alone, and investigated some 170 complaints involving maternity leave discrimination allegations since 2010.

Our work in this area has real and immediate meaning for many families. In a case this summer involving Greenlight Financial, California father Jonathan Alvanos told The Washington Post: “I couldn’t believe they would say ‘You are pregnant and can’t refinance. They called it just another form of disability. But I thought that’s discrimination on a few different levels. You basically are telling me that my wife and unborn child are a liability. I contacted HUD. I’m glad to know they can’t just walk over everyone.”

Our work continues. Educating families and lenders on their Fair Housing rights and responsibilities will continue to be critical. For this, we often partner with MomsRising to spread the word to moms and to continue collecting stories from families.

Our nation will never fulfill its full promise if any of its citizens are being denied a fair chance to own or rent a home because of what they look like, where they come from, who they love and other circumstances of life. With our fair housing efforts, we’re going to help ensure that every American has the chance to pursue housing opportunities free from discrimination.

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