Census Bureau estimates reveal the total population of Jamaica to be double that of Forest Hills, so why does the latter have a higher concentration of banks?
According to a study done by the office of Congressman Greg Meeks, the deciding factor in this matter is race: Jamaica is 84 percent black and Hispanic, while Forest Hills is 82 percent white and Asian.
Through an analysis of isolated Census data, the report found that in Queens zip codes where the population is less than 25 percent black and Hispanic, there is one bank for every 3,159 people.
When the neighborhood demographic changes to more than 75 percent black and Hispanic, the ratio is one for every 22,936.
By this comparison, the math indicates there are seven times fewer banks in predominantly black and brown communities in Queens than in those with different ethnic makeups.
Meeks explained that this disparity is consistent even in cases where there is no significant difference in the average incomes.
“You can't say there's money in one place and not the other,” he said at a field hearing convened by the House Consumer Protection and Financial Services Committee in downtown Jamaica last Friday. “There is only one difference, and that’s the ethnicity of the people.”
Meeks, who chairs the committee, was joined by fellow members of Congress in hearing testimony from a panel of experts on affordable housing and banking marginalized communities, including Chhaya CDC, National Association for Latino Community Asset Builders, National Bankers Association, and Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America.
Addressing findings from the Queens study, in addition to an analysis by the Center for Investigative Reporting, the committee implicated the actions of financial institutions as modern-day redlining.
Coined by sociologist James McKnight in the 1960s, redlining is defined as a practice that denies services to whole neighborhoods on the basis of race or ethnicity.
The term derives from instances of lenders literally drawing a red line on a map to signify communities they would not invest in, usually due to demographics alone, and most often in black inner-city neighborhoods.
Examples of redlining can be pointed to in various financial services such as mortgages, student loans, credit cards and insurance. The Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) of 1977 made all of these practices illegal, but lawmakers last week made it clear that they believe this kind of discrimination still exists.
“Redlining is among the unfinished business of the Civil and Human Rights Movement,” said Congressman Al Green from Texas. “Today’s hearing revealed that redlining and discriminatory conduct persist, and that we have much more to do.”
The committee argued for the preservation of the CRA, as the White House and the FDIC have proposed reforms that would relax some requirements mandated by the law.
Members repeatedly called for even greater measures of testing in order to prevent redlining from slipping through the cracks.
They also stressed the importance of protecting minority banks and credit unions, as well as Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) in these neighborhoods, which empower individuals and small businesses in communities of color.
“We want to reverse these banking deserts in our communities," said Meeks “A loan is your future. And when you’re deprived of that, then you’re deprived of a future.
“Invest capital in CDFIs,” he continued, “and watch our communities flourish.”