Susan Ritacca coauthored this article.
Urban Partnership, a new institution, bought out ShoreBank on Friday, ending the bank's 37 years of service and its title as the oldest and longest serving community development bank in the country. In a previous blog, the Shriver Center outlined the numerous opportunities ShoreBank offered to low-income communities, including underwriting homeownership loans for working families, providing alternative lending options to small businesses, and countless community development projects that improved low-income neighborhoods.
Recent reports have linked the failure of ShoreBank to the Obama Administration's clear decision not to affiliate itself with any one bank or institution. Why did the White House push so hard for bailouts to Wall Street firms, the purveyors of the economic crisis, and not community banks, such as ShoreBank, the institutions hit hardest? Why did the White House bow to political pressure to avoid the impression that ShoreBank was only being saved because of its supposed ties to President Obama and other senior White House staff? Why weren't there lobbyists fighting on behalf of ShoreBank and others like it?
It is hard to understand how allowing the failure of ShoreBank fits into the administration's promise to make the middle class a priority. What message is the government sending by allowing ShoreBank to fail, while allowing irresponsible banks like Wells Fargo and AIG, who shoulder a heavy proportion of blame for the current economic crisis, to come out ahead?
The reality is that community banks are coming under intense pressure from a crumbling commercial real estate market, a weak economy, and lop-sided competition with banking goliaths deemed too big to fail. Champion for working families Elizabeth Warren agrees that small banks serve an important function in this economy and disproportionally lend the money to small businesses.
What those that opposed the bailout of ShoreBank failed to realize is that community banks are integral to the health and well being of our economy. Using large Wall Street banks as the only option not only ignores the needs of the small business community, but puts consumers at risk of a monopoly. In addition, if this trend continues, the needs of entrepreneurs and community rehabilitation projects may never see the light of day. It is widely known that small businesses are responsible for most of the net job creation in the United States, which makes it clear why we need community investment banks to remain alive and thrive.
Small banks need a different program than TARP if they are going to make it through this crisis. Small banks and big banks do not look like each other and certainly don't act like each other. There needs to be differences in how they are treated, but these differences should not reward big banks over community banks, which have historically made significant strides in solving problems relevant to low-income families, blighted neighborhoods, and small businesses. One way to ensure that this occurs is to reform the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) to reward community banks for their efforts while requiring big banks to do more. The recently introduced H.B. 1479 would do just that and should, therefore, be supported. Additionally, the banking regulatory agencies recently held hearings to determine what updates are needed in the CRA regulations. These agencies should be encouraged to include these kinds of reforms.