This issue of Cascade provides very different articles with a common theme of renewal: renovating homes to save money through energy conservation and rebuilding neighborhoods by putting vacant land and buildings to productive use again. Taking something that is nonfunctional and putting it to good use always makes me smile.
The lead story is based on a lender — AFC First Financial Corporation in the Lehigh Valley — that has found a niche in financing money-saving energy improvements. A companion story highlights a nonprofit that is also working to lower energy costs for low-income consumers. Along the way, both organizations have created opportunities for workers to learn new marketable skills, for the government to make attractive investments, and for property owners to pay less to heat their homes. It is a win-win situation.
Vacant land and abandoned buildings seem to sit forever, but in Philadelphia and Genesee County, MI, that is no longer the norm. Terry Gillen writes about Philadelphia’s efforts under Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration to change how vacant properties are acquired and converted into new uses. In his article, Dan Kildee discusses the new Ford Foundation–funded non-profit, the Center for Community Progress, and its efforts to take the Genesee County experience to other communities. In addition to detailing the efforts to salvage or demolish properties, he shares four principles that are important for all communities that want to get control of the vacant buildings that limit their future growth.
In Washington, D.C., there has been plenty of other news. This summer, President Obama signed the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, a law that will revamp many parts of the financial regulatory system. There are sure to be some bumps as the details are worked out, but the creation of a new Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection is a positive step in the eyes of many consumer advocates. Although the bureau will be housed in the Federal Reserve, it will be independent and have substantial powers to write and enforce regulations for how lenders serve consumers. We will keep you posted as we learn more about the bureau’s role.
And there is more change underway. In July, the four federal bank and thrift regulatory agencies — the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Office of Thrift Supervision, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation — began hearings on Regulation BB, the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). These hearings are the first in more than 15 years — since the procedures for examining banks’ and thrifts’ CRA compliance were dramatically changed during the Clinton administration. The questions asked in these CRA hearings, in part, include: Should the agencies revise the regulation and require examiners to routinely consider activities by affiliates? Should the agencies consider revisions to the community development test or to the definition of community development?
The four regulators also announced several joint Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (Regulation C) hearings designed to garner public comments on data elements for financial institutions’ annual reports on mortgage lending activities. In the coming months, I will keep you posted on all of these issues.