Cook County, Illinois Files Fair Housing Act Lawsuit Against Wells Fargo & Co. for Predatory and Discriminatory Mortgage Lending & Foreclosure Practices

Cook County Minority Communities Devastated by Foreclosures

On Friday, November 28, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez filed a federal Fair Housing Act lawsuit on behalf of Cook County against Wells Fargo & Co., Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., and their subsidiaries and affiliates including the former Wachovia Corporation.  The lawsuit alleges that defendants’ predatory and discriminatory mortgage lending, servicing and foreclosure activities are part of a broad “equity stripping” practice that continues to this day and, in part, led to the foreclosure crisis in Cook County and elsewhere.

At issue are over 55,000 potentially predatory and discriminatory mortgage loans Wells Fargo is now responsible for that it, and its affiliates, made to minority borrowers in Cook County since January 2000.  This includes many “Pick-A-Payment” loans made by Wachovia and World Savings Bank, among others.

Wells Fargo and its affiliates are responsible for over 26,700 foreclosure filings on homeowners in Cook County from January 2000 through August of this year.  Over 18,900 of those filings – 71 percent -- are concentrated in Cook County’s minority neighborhoods and communities as depicted on the attached GIS map.  In contrast, just 22.6% of all owner-occupied homes in Cook County are owned by minorities.

The County is seeking injunctive relief and monetary damages for the resulting harm that the defendants caused.  This includes the segregative effect on Plaintiff’s minority communities and neighborhoods, leading to urban blight; the reallocation of Plaintiff’s limited financial and human resources to address the harms defendants’ actions have caused; and the monetary damages that the County has sustained, including the erosion of its tax base, loss of property tax and other revenue sources, and the costs incurred relating to abandoned or vacant properties.

“The predatory lending crisis has caused tremendous tangible and intangible damage, particularly to African American and Latino communities in Cook County,” President Preckwinkle said. “Predatory lending continues to exist in Cook County and the lending institutions engaged in such practices must be held accountable.”

It is our intent that this lawsuit, along with the two previously filed against other lenders, will eradicate  the harmful and discriminatory lending practices that have devastated so many homeowners in Cook County, particularly those targeting minorities and women, said Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez.

“Wells Fargo’s alleged predatory and discriminatory mortgage lending, servicing and foreclosure practices adversely impact all of Cook County.  But they have had a particularly devastating effect on minority communities that have been the focus of such activities, particularly including African American women,” said Jim Evangelista, a partner with the law firm of Harris Penn Lowry, LLP which represents Cook County.  James Montgomery, of James D. Montgomery & Associates, Ltd., who also represents Cook County, stated that “Wells Fargo continues to strip equity from minority homeowners and minority communities in Cook County.  The County holds Wells Fargo accountable for such actions.”

Earlier this year, Cook County filed similar lawsuits against HSBC North America Holdings, Inc., and against Bank of America, which also is responsible for mortgage loans made by Countrywide and Merrill Lynch.