The Corner

A Government-Endorsed Racial Guessing Game

There’s an interesting requirement in the Treasury Department’s handbook for mortgage servicers who want to participate in the Obama administration’s Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). The servicers are told they need to solicit Government Monitoring Data (GMD) on the “race, ethnicity, and sex” of borrowers, and “explain to borrowers the importance of providing this information.” The handbook says the information is important because it is used to ensure compliance with the anti-discrimination provisions of various federal fair-housing laws (although the Obama administration has promised to enforce them against practices that merely have a “disparate impact,” which really is not discrimination, but that’s another story).

Anyway, here’s the part of the handbook that ought to raise eyebrows:

If a borrower declines to provide GMD, the servicer should attempt to provide the information based on visual observation, information learned from the borrower or surname. The servicer must note on the form that the information is based on servicer observations. Servicing staff should be provided with training and job aids (e.g., desk references, scripts and, where feasible, system prompts) to supply this information based on visual observation or surname.

So, in other words, if you refuse to check a silly little box defining your race and ethnicity, then the government wants the mortgage servicer to check a box for you, and to train its employees in judging people’s race and ethnicity by looking at them. Wouldn’t you love to be in on these “training” sessions, and wouldn’t you love to take a look at the “desk references” that are provided? All in the name of nondiscrimination, of course. As for judging people’s sex . . .

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