By Lisa Lambert
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Outlets of Santander Bank, already under fire for lending practices, denied mortgages to women, minorities and low-income borrowers in the U.S. Northeast more frequently than nearby banks, according to an analysis by an industry reform group on Thursday.
The Committee for Better Banks, a coalition of bank workers, consumer advocacy groups and unions, dug into government data on home loans in the U.S. Northeast, including nearly 10,000 Santander home-purchase applications, and found "a disturbing pattern of racial and economic discrimination."
Santander denied more than 26 percent of borrowers of color a mortgage in 2014, when other banks in the same locations only turned down 17 percent in aggregate, according to the analysis.
It also refused loans to 30 percent of low-income applicants, compared to the aggregate rate of 18 percent, and 20 percent of women, compared to the aggregate rate of 13.6 percent.
Meanwhile, in 2015, Santander rejected more than three people of color for every white borrower it turned down.
A Santander spokesperson said the bank has "serious questions about its accuracy."
Santander's Ann Davis said the main data source, disclosures that lenders file under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, "does not reflect many important factors that all financial institutions consider when reviewing loan applications, including the borrower’s amount of debt and credit history."
The HMDA was passed in 1975 to shine a light on qualified borrowers who could not get loans because of where they lived.
The analysis found some of the greatest discrimination in four metropolitan areas: Pennsylvania's Philadelphia, Massachusetts' Worcester, Connecticut's Hartford and New Jersey's Camden.
In Philadelphia's low-income neighborhoods, Santander's mortgage denial rate was 36.6 percent in 2015, more than twice the aggregate rate in that market. That year in Hartford, Santander denied at least four Latino borrowers for every white one.
In 2014 Santander settled a lawsuit with Providence, Rhode Island, over alleged "redlining," a practice in which a bank limits lending in minority neighborhoods while increasing it in predominantly white ones.
The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency will soon fail Santander on a community lending test for doing too little to reach poor neighborhoods, according to sources familiar with the situation.
The bank, which is owned by the euro zone's second-largest bank by market value, Banco Santander, also recently flunked an annual stress test meant to ensure it can withstand a financial crisis without taxpayer help.
(Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)