For generations, mortgage lending has always been the gateway to the American dream of homeownership, and, historically, has also been characterized by widespread discrimination against racial and ethnic minorities and their communities. Mortgage discrimination in the modem era has often been accomplished through a technique known as discretionary pricing, in which lenders allow their loan officers and brokers to increase borrowers' costs from an objectively determined base rate. In the past decade alone, discretionary pricing has cost minority homeowners billions of dollars in extra payments, which, in tum, has led these minorities to suffer higher foreclosure rates than whites and has reversed recent gains in their homeownership rates.

This Article explores the civil rights implications of discretionary pricing, which is currently being challenged in a series of nationwide class-action lawsuits based primarily on the federal Fair Housing Act. We begin with some background on the mortgage industry's performance in recent years and a survey of the evidence of the discrimination that has existed within this industry. We then review current legal responses to this discrimination, with a particular focus on the series of FHA-based class actions that have focused on the racial impact of discretionary pricing. We conclude with a discussion of non-litigation reforms that are also needed to ensure that the home-finance industry provides a less discriminatory marketplace in the future.

Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 2010


Notes/Citation Information

Harvard Civil Rights—Civil Liberties Law Review, Vol. 45, No. 2 (Summer 2010), 375-434



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