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Natives borrow $3 billion for housing

WASHINGTON ? The country's top ten mortgage lenders made $3 billion in loans to American Indians and Alaska Natives last year, a sizable increase from the $2 billion recorded in 2000, federal data show.

Nine of the top ten lenders made more than $100 million in Native mortgages last year, a first. None of the top ten lenders, however, made more than 1 percent of their total mortgage volumes to Indian borrowers, indicating that at either 1 percent or just below that of the nation's population, Indians are still in the underserved category.

The 33 percent Native lending increase was less than that for the whole market, which doubled last year, but the 2000 data were marred by over reporting.

Indeed, last year's putative leader at $752 million, finance company The Associates of Texas, reported less than $5 million in Native mortgages this year, as part of its new owner, Citigroup, which claimed the 2000 numbers were grossly in error.

Citigroup's 14 reporting units totaled $95 million in Indian mortgages, leaving it just shy of the top ten at number 11. However, if combined with the Native mortgage volume of First Nationwide Mortgage Co., Frederick, Md., which it is in the process of acquiring, Citi would have $180 million, ranking it eighth.

Replacing The Associates at the top for 2001 is Countrywide Home Loans of Rosemead, Calif. Adding in the volume of its sub-prime mortgage affiliate, Full Spectrum Lending, Countrywide made $894.5 million in Native mortgages last year, a tripling from 2000's $296 million.

These numbers come from what the institutions report to the federal government under Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) requirements and have been compiled by Mortgagestats.com, Washington, DC. They are skewed, however, because 30 percent of borrowers last year did not reveal their ethnicity.

The HMDA numbers are not as refined as they could be for Indian country, since they make no breakdown between mortgages extended on or off reservation. They also do not separate out prime from subprime loans, which would shed useful light interesting on the charges of predatory lending in Indian country, something subprime lenders and finance companies are often accused of.

While no pure subprime lender made the 2001 top ten, many of the banks and mortgage banks on the list do both prime and subprime lending. Prime lending is to borrowers of unblemished credit quality, usually expressed as "A" credit. Subprime lenders deal with borrowers of "A minus" where there are a few dings on the credit report, down through progressively worse "B," "C" and "D" credit.

HMDA numbers are often hard to get a handle on because the same institutions have multiple reporting units, mainly due to acquisitions they have made. The number-two lender to natives for 2001, Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, Des Moines, had no fewer than 16 reporting units in the top 1,000 lenders. Adding them together (most are affiliates of Wells' parent, Wells Fargo Bank) reveals $607 million in volume.

Wells recorded $233 million in volume for 2000.

Number three, savings institution Washington Mutual Bank of Seattle, has five reporting units plus an affiliated subprime lender, Long Beach Mortgage. The six together produced $356.6 million in Native mortgages last year, effectively tripling 2000 volume and vaulting WaMu, the top overall mortgage lender in the country, up five spots in the Native top ten.

Chase Manhattan Mortgage Corp. Edison, N.J., one of the country's biggest mortgage banks, was fourth in volume for 2001 at $251 million. That topped by $100 million Chase's 2000 volume of $148 million.

A merged institution, Southern regional First Union-Wachovia, came in fifth when its units were added together, at $228 million. ABN AMRO Mortgage, Troy, Mich., was sixth at $193 million, while Bank of America, St. Louis, came in seventh at $191.3 million, a nice increase from 2000 volume of $128 million.

Rounding out the top ten are National City Mortgage of Cleveland, at $155.2 million, Greenpoint Mortgage, New York, at $100.5 million, and Flagstar Bank, Troy, Mich., at $97 million.