Leading Consumer, Civil Rights, and Housing Organizations Urge the Federal Housing Finance Agency to Exercise Caution Regarding Fintech and Other Technology Innovations
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 4, 2022
Media Contact: Izzy Woodruff | 202-898-1661 | Iwoodruff@nationalfairhousing.org
Washington, D.C. — A group of consumer, civil rights, and housing organizations submitted a detailed letter in response to the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA)’s July 2022 Fintech in Housing Finance Request for Information (RFI) urging the agency to exercise caution and prioritize consumer protections with respect to innovations in fintech, proptech, regtech, and other technologies. The RFI was issued by FHFA’s Office of Financial Technology to better understand the current landscape and impacts of innovations in the mortgage, real estate, and regulation and compliance sectors. FHFA’S goal is to also fully grasp potential innovations throughout the mortgage lifecycle and related processes, risks, and opportunities as well as how the agency can facilitate innovation in a responsible and equitable manner.
The RFI emerges at a time when advances in financial technology are making it possible to reduce the time and cost of transactions and, thus, improve overall consumer convenience when used responsibly. However, lack of proper consideration and safeguards for the application of new technology in housing finance can increase the possibility of unlawful discrimination; poor data protections; financial, regulatory, legal, and reputational risks; as well as other negative outcomes that could adversely impact consumers and the overall economy. Due to the possibility of potential harm to consumers and the economy, the advocates urge FHFA to approach new innovations in mortgage origination (mortgage tech), researching, transacting, managing real estate (proptech), and regulation and compliance (regtech) with caution and consideration for consumer protections.
“Government, industry, advocacy groups, and FHFA must work together to ensure technological innovations are safe, beneficial, and support equitable housing and finance markets. This is simply the right thing to do, and it will aid individual consumers and our whole society,” said Lisa Rice, President and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance (NHFA).
The advocates propose the following key principles for consideration by FHFA and its Office of Financial Technology when evaluating whether solutions from fintechs should be used in housing finance:
- Maintain all existing consumer and fair lending protections,
- Protect consumers from harms unique to fintech, particularly electronic records that replace writing requirements, and ensure high standards for security procedures for electronic signatures,
- Incorporate strong protections against algorithmic bias,
- Incorporate housing counseling in mortgage applications and provide credit to borrowers who participate in housing counseling,
- Ensure strong tenant protections in property tech, and
- Employ skepticism about the prospect of conducting real estate transactions on blockchains.
“By taking such principles into account when FHFA evaluates whether to incorporate new aspects of financial technology in housing finance, we can ensure consumers are put front and center,” stated Dr. Michael Akinwumi, NFHA’s Chief Tech Equity Officer.
In addition, many of the technologies that leverage alternative data and AI or machine learning techniques to determine who has access to credit and other economic opportunities come from fintechs or fintech-like hubs within traditional financial institutions. “Such innovations can lead to unlawful discriminatory outcomes that result in more harm than good without adequate guardrails to eliminate harms associated with the innovations. It is crucial for FHFA to only allow the use of models and algorithms that have gone through proper auditing and accountability evaluation,” added Dr. Akinwumi.
Click here to read the advocates’ response to the RFI.
The response to the RFI was issued jointly by the following organizations:
- Americans for Financial Reform Education Fund
- Consumer Action
- National Consumer Law Center (on behalf of its low-income clients)
- National Fair Housing Alliance
- National Housing Law Project
- National Housing Resource Center
- Public Citizen
The National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) is the country’s only national civil rights organization dedicated solely to eliminating all forms of housing and lending discrimination and ensuring equal opportunities for all people. As the trade association for over 170 fair housing and justice-centered organizations and individuals throughout the U.S. and its territories, NFHA works to dismantle longstanding barriers to equity and build diverse, inclusive, well-resourced communities.