Mike Calhoun (left), president of the Center for Responsible Lending and Wade Henderson (right), president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and CRL Board member, speaking at CRL’s recent anniversary celebration at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York.
In the late 1990s, leaders at Self-Help Credit Union began to notice a disturbing trend. While Self-Help was helping lower-wealth families buy their first homes, predatory lenders were busy targeting the same families for subprime refinances. Too often these refinances drained the homeowners’ resources until they lost their homes. When a borrower came to us owing more than $47,000 on a house that originally cost $29,000, we knew we had to act. Thus, our affiliate organization the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL) was born.*
Today, fifteen years later, CRL continues to stand up for fair loans that build wealth and fight predatory lending practices. On April 25, the organization celebrated its anniversary with a reception in New York City. The event included a discussion of the current mortgage market, the fourth in a lecture series on building community wealth. Guests included mortgage and financial industry experts, nonprofit leaders and funders, and partners in community development and fair lending.
The reception was co-hosted by Saul Sanders, co-CEO of Shellpoint Partners LLC, and Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Henderson, who plans to retire soon after a long and distinguished career, was a founding board member of CRL.
“I’ve been with CRL since day one, and we’ve faced many challenges together. It is not an overstatement to say that millions of families are better off today because of CRL’s research, advocacy and coalition building. Their work has made a tremendous difference,” Henderson said.
Saul Sanders called CRL “an honest broker” among responsible lenders and financial services firms. He said, “CRL’s sole focus is to help ensure fair lending for the least among us, particularly those whose voices are not typically heard.”
When CRL started, the organization had no way of knowing that the predatory lending of that time was only in its infancy. As growth in the subprime mortgage market exploded, unsustainable mortgage loans became business-as-usual. At the same time, payday lenders were seeking to expand operations in more states while abusive practices were growing in many other consumer loan sectors, including credit cards, car loans and debt collection.
CRL’s work has taken place in nearly every state, in many legislative halls and on the streets with local coalitions. Here CRL’s Graciela Aponte-Diaz joins partners in protesting debt-trap payday loans during “Shark Week” in San Francisco, circa 2014.
At the anniversary event, CRL’s president, Mike Calhoun, noted that CRL has covered a lot of ground. "CRL and its partners and supporters, along with state advocacy organizations, have spent the last 15 years working to make consumer protection a top priority, especially for low-income families and communities of color. Together, we've fought against abusive financial practices, including payday lenders, debt collectors, mortgage scammers, overdraft fees, and we pushed for financial reform that resulted in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.”
While recognizing accomplishments, CRL and its partners also know that their work is far from over. Today many hard-won reforms to protect low- and middle-income families are under attack as some lawmakers seek to roll back legislation designed to protect consumers and prevent another financial crisis. Meanwhile, the wealth gap in our nation continues to grow while the middle-class shrinks.
“As we look at the next 15 years and beyond, it will be important to build on the progress we’ve made to ensure families are protected from financial predators,” said Mike Calhoun.
CRL is an independent affiliate of Self-Help, but we are proud to be related. Visit www.responsiblelending.org to find out more about CRL’s work, sign up for their mailing list, become an active supporter and donate.
*CRL started as the Coalition for Responsible Lending, a diverse group of North Carolina advocates and leaders who worked together to pass the first anti-predatory lending law in the nation. Hear more about this effort and the surrounding debate in this 2001 video of Self-Help CEO Martin Eakes testifying before the Senate Banking Committee at a congressional hearing.