Chase Bank Vows To Do Better On Lending In Black Neighborhoods

Chase Bank
Linda Lutton / WBEZ
Chase Bank
Linda Lutton / WBEZ

Chase Bank Vows To Do Better On Lending In Black Neighborhoods

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“We can and will do better.”

That was the message JPMorgan Chase Bank delivered Friday to Chicago elected officials and activists demanding reparations and change from the bank on the heels of WBEZ reporting that showed gaping disparities in its lending between Chicago’s white and Black neighborhoods.

In a letter to Chicago’s City Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin dated Friday, Chase’s CEO of Home Lending Mark O’Donovan acknowledged, “There is more to be done to further address racial and economic inequality, especially for Black Chicagoans.”

“We know that the financial services industry, including JPMorgan Chase, play a critical role supporting the long-term economic success of communities and we know we have work to do,” O’Donovan wrote. “We can and will do better.”

WBEZ found that between 2012 to 2018, Chase lent less than 2% of its home purchase dollars in Chicago’s Black neighborhoods. Nearly 80% of the bank’s lending went to majority-white areas.

O’Donovan pointed to Chase efforts to promote homeownership. He said Chase had recently doubled its home buyer grants, from $2,500 to $5,000; had provided $1 billion over the past decade to create and preserve 11,000 units of affordable housing; and is hiring additional mortgage lending officers to serve the area.

The Chase letter to Conyears-Ervin came as the treasurer co-sponsored a Juneteenth virtual roundtable that assembled top bank executives to discuss eliminating structural racism in the banking industry. The hourlong discussion attracted 900 viewers but dealt only briefly with lending.

Separately Friday, top Chase executives had a video meeting with 24-year-old Ja’Mal Green and other activists who had shut down several Chase locations this week through “pop up” protests where they demanded billions in reparations from Chase to compensate for the bank’s weak lending record in Black neighborhoods.

A Chase spokesperson described the meeting as “constructive” and said both Chase and the activists want to see greater economic and homeownership opportunities and investment.

Representing Chase in the meeting were a vice president of nonprofit engagement and managing directors from mortgage banking, corporate responsibility, and the Chicago region.

Green, who made a short-lived run for mayor two years ago and who campaigned for Bernie Sanders in 2016, said Chase officials “admitted to me that they were wrong. They admitted they have to do better. They admitted they have to change their policies.”

Green said he asked Chase officials for the same thing he’s been demanding in protests at Chase branches all week: “$1 billion in reparations, with tens of thousands of grants going to homeowners, small businesses, we even asked them for equity into an African-American-owned bank.”

Green said he was pleased to hear Chase would invest more in urban communities. “And I told them I appreciate that. But we’re not here for that,” Green told thousands of Facebook Live followers on a video he posted after the meeting. “We’re here to talk about how you’re going to repay these neighborhoods for the damage that you caused.” He said a lack of lending in the Black community means families have not built generational wealth, increasing instability and violence in neighborhoods, including police violence.

Green said he’ll continue to try to shut down Chase branches through protest. “Now that we got the door open, we gotta keep up the pressure,” he said.

WBEZ’s analysis did not focus exclusively on Chase, but many of the protests have targeted the bank. Chase did have the greatest racial disparity of any of the city’s top lenders in terms of the amount the bank invested in Chicago’s white, Black and Latino neighborhoods.

Linda Lutton covers Chicago neighborhoods for WBEZ. Follow her @lindalutton