A David and Goliath battle is shaping up in the Boston financial world.
An eight-member activist group is trying to block the expansion of the state's largest bank--the First National Bank of Boston--because they say the bank is violating the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act, which requires banks to meet investment needs in their communities.
Community groups have often accused First National and other banks of "redlining" in several towns by denying mortgages and other loans. Now the Massachusetts Urban Reinvestment Advisory Group (MURAG) wants banks to base loans on financial credibility--not addresses.
The First will have a chance to counter those charges Wednesday night in a hearing before the State Board of Banking Corp. The banks, the community groups and MURAG's representatives are expected to testify.
At issue is the First's application to purchase a bank in Haverhill. MURAG, however, has turned the everyday incorporation petition into a debate over the First's investment policies.
A spokesman for the First denies that the bank violated the reinvestment act. But James Carras, MURAG's executive director, says the bank has been "grossly negligent."
MURAG records say First has given no mortgages in four years to residents of Chinatown, the North End, South Boston, Mission Hill, Charlestown and the West End. During the same period, the bank made one home loan in East Boston and one in Roxbury.
"Those figures speak for themselves," DeWitt C. Jones IV '79, a MURAG member, said yesterday. The bank spokesman refused to comment on the figures.
One group expected to testify is the Fenway Project Area Committee (FENPAC), a community group trying to encourage development in the Fenway area.
"The First National Bank has absolutely no history of investment in the Fenway Community." Thomas Andrews, the chairman of FENPAC, said yesterday, adding, "They have banks in the area; they just haven't invested."
If MURAG blocks the First's efforts to expand to Haverhill on the grounds of violating the act in other parts of the city, the bank would have to reevaluate its community investment policies, Andrews said.
"A bank like the First is always looking to expand. If they're blocked in this case, they would be blocked in any other," Andrews said.
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