Marcus Cole on Mortgage Counseling in Chicago

Lynne Kiesling

Marcus Cole, a law professor at Stanford, is one of the smartest and nicest people I know. Happily, he is guest-blogging at blackprof.com. Sadly, the legal change to which he applies his considerable analytical skills is disturbing:

On Tuesday, in addition to Mrs. King’s passing and Justice Alito’s elevation, the State of Illinois enacted a law that requires all mortgage applications within nine Chicago zip codes to undergo a process of review by the state’s Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. The department’s review process determines whether mortgage applicants in these neighborhoods must undergo compulsory credit counseling. If they must, then the mortgage lender must pay the cost of the counseling.

Anyone familiar with Chicago geography and demography knows these nine zip codes. They are all neighborhoods on the South and Southwest side of Chicago. They are predominantly African-American neighborhoods. These neighborhoods are some of the most impoverished in the City of Chicago, and indeed, the nation. On Tuesday, they suddenly became much poorer.

Although the legislators responsible for the new law were motivated by good intentions, they failed to consider the inevitable consequences of their bill. They wanted to protect poor homeowners in certain neighborhoods from high interest rates and predatory lending practices. The new law, however, necessarily increases the costs, time and uncertainty associated with mortgage applications in these black neighborhoods. The cost of credit counseling will be born by and charged to mortgage applicants. This, in turn, will necessarily decrease the price that new home-buyers can afford to pay for homes in these neighborhoods. If they can choose to buy in other neighborhoods, where housing money is more affordable, they, on the margin, will. Furthermore, recent studies of credit counseling programs suggest that these programs have little effect on borrower behavior. The end result is that homeowners in these poor black neighborhoods suddenly have less equity in their homes than they had on Monday.

Thanks to Jim Lindgren at Volokh for the link.