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Soul Bite Studio’s: Friday’s In The Know

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Is There Bias in Lending to Black Churches

A fifth of the nation’s religious congregations is predominantly African American, yet they account for the majority of bankruptcies among U.S. Churches, according to new research.

Of the 654 houses of worship to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection between 2006 and 2013, 60 percent had black pastors or predominantly black membership, according to a recent draft report. However, that’s a conservative estimate, with the actual figure likely to be upwards of 75 percent, said the report’s author, Pamela Foohey, an associate professor at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law.

“For many years, there’s been research about how race matters in the context of consumer bankruptcies,” said Foohey in an interview with CBS MoneyWatch, referring to separate findings that blacks pay higher rates for auto loans and mortgages. It’s not a stretch to believe many of the same factors would be in play, with many black pastors finding their loan modification requests denied at times of financial troubles.

Still, Foohey stresses that while her draft report shows a surprisingly high rate of bankruptcy filings among black churches, it doesn’t definitely conclude that bias on the part of lenders is behind the numbers: “The income of congregants, the wealth of congregants could be a big factor.”

The outsize proportion of reorganizations could be because black churches pay higher rates for real estate loans or are targeted for the equivalent of subprime loans, wrote Foohey, who reviewed 80,000 bankruptcy petitions and spoke to more than 100 church leaders and bankruptcy attorneys in her work.

Each one of those bankruptcy reorganization increase borrowing costs for black churches, according to the paper, forcing them to spend thousands of dollars on lawyers and filing fees.

“Pastors should talk to each other and share their experiences with lenders,” Foohey said, “so they can have the notion that something like this could be going on, and think about their options.”

Until next time Soul Bite of Wisdom…