Discrimination in home financing is based more on race than on property location, according to a comprehensive study by the Harvard-MIT Joint Center for Urban Studies.
The 18-month study released today of the five largest metropolitan areas in New York State calls for more stringent enforcement of banking regulations to prevent discrimination.
The study suggests that lending quotas should be established as an affirmative action policy to combat unlawful discrimination.
It also calls for the development of a scoring system to evaluate credit-worthiness of mortgage applicants to minimize prejudicial decisions by lending institutions and to ensure equal treatment.
"We must increase our efforts to ensure equal access of all races to the home buying market," said Harvard professor Robert Schafer, author of the study.
The study, which its author says is the most exhaustive investigation of urban mortgage lending in the country, challenges current arguments nationwide that lending institutions "redline" neighborhoods considered to be financially risky.
Redlining is the practice of refusing to lend money to, or granting mortgages with higher rates for, certain neighborhoods. The national debate on mortgage lending practices has largely focused on geographic discrimination.
"This concern is somewhat misdirected since our findings indicate that individuals, more than neighborhoods, are the object of discrimination," Schafer said.
The Harvard-MIT study, funded by the Savings Banks Association of New York State, looked at lending practices in New York City-Long Island, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and the Albany-Schenectady-Troy areas.
It found that in all but the Albany-Schenectady-Troy area, black applicants have twice as great a chance of being turned down for a mortgage as do white applicants with similar socioeconomic, property and neighborhood characteristics.
The study further reveals that New York's ceiling on mortgage interest rates reduces the amount of money available for economic development in the state and the opportunities of lower-income households to own their own homes.
From 1974 to 1977, the study says, New York residents lost up to $2.4 billion in mortgage funds through out-of-state loans because the state interest ceiling was set below the prevailing market interest rates Low-income families, which received disproportionately less mortgage credit during this period, suffered the most.
New York and California, Schafer said, are currently the only states that require records be kept on mortgage applications. He suggested that other states follow their lead so that discrimination may be more carefully monitored.
A study similar to the one just completed in New York has been started in California and its results are expected in about a year.
Schafer said the results of the New York study suggest discrimination practices on the basis of race in other urban areas throughout the country. However, he said, that cannot be determined until comprehensive studies are conducted.
"I think New York is not atypical," Schafer said.