Washington's oldest savings and loan organization, the Oriental Building Association, has agreed to lend at least $2 million over the next four years to minority home purchasers or homebuyers in high-minority areas.
The money will come from a special $4 million loan fund that the institution is setting up to rejuvenate its home loan program. Lawyers said the $4 million represents about 51 per cent of the relatively small firm's assets.
The agreement, scheduled to be filed before U.S. District Judge Joseph C. Waddy today, will settle a lawsuit filed two years ago over the institution's lending practices. Unprecedented in several ways, it is also believed to be the first successful court action against so-called "redlining" mortgage policies by lending institutions.
Critics claim that financial institutions "redline" by deciding that certain areas of cities - usually poor, high-minority areas - are poor risks for home loans. These critics say potential home purchasers in these areas encounter greater difficulty in getting loans than purchasers in other sections.
The agreement, which both sides agree to publicize widely before a hearing on its final acceptance scheduled for June 8, is unusually detailed.
It includes sections concerning the manner in which loans will be processed at Oriental, how the firm will spend money on advertisements and what the advertisements will contain, the manner in which its employes will be trained and the criteria upon which loan decisions will be based.
The settlement comes in a suit brought by the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law on behalf of a black woman who was rejected as a borrower by Oriental after a white acquaintance's loan application was approved.
As part of the settlement, the institution - located at 600 F St. NW and also known as OBA - agreed to pay the woman $6,000 in damages plus $37,000 in attorney fees.
The savings and loan association denied wrongdoing in its loan policy in the past, but said in court papers it had decided to agree to the comprehensive settlement and provide "far-reaching affirmative relief."
The original suit, filed by Edith Cooper Lawrence of 15514 Peach Walker Dr., Bowie, is a class action on behalf of blacks who have applied or attempted to apply for residential home mortgags from the institution since June 1972. Attorneys said yesterday that the settlement will "significantly benefit a large class of potential minority applicants" because of the new loan source.
Roderic V. O. Boggs and Charles Both, who represented the lawyers' committee, said the settlement is the first involving alleged Fair Housing Act violations by a savings and loan institution and that it contained several unusual provisions to be used in executing the new policy.
The two attorneys said they hope the settlement will impact on other savings and loan facilities in Washington, since it sets specific goals for a facility's loan policy toward minorities. Although the attorneys said savings and loan institutions n Washington have made advances recently in making loans available in high-minority areas, there are still improvements to be made.
"It's one step in the direction of changing lending practices," Both said.
Lawrence filed suit after a finding by the D.C. office of human rights that the financial institution had discriminated against her.
According to that report, the company told Lawrence it was not making loans over a certain three-month period when it in fact made 72 loans. Of that number, only two were to D.C. residents and only one was to a black - a Maryland resident.
An analysis of census tracts done at the time showed that the institution made loans only to areas that had a black population under 6.5 percent. The tract in which Lawrence wanted to buy was 40.3 percent black.
The $6,000 in damages to Lawrence reflects the different interest rate she ultimately had to pay as a result getting her loan elsewhere, plus pain and suffering, her attorneys said. In addition, OBA agreed to make a loan commitment available to Lawrence in the next eight months if she desires one.