Community stakeholders pressure bank to reform lending practices


Protestors gathered in Kingston (above), New Paltz and Poughkeepsie

KINGSTON – Community activists gathered outside Ulster Savings
Bank branches in Kingston, New Paltz and Poughkeepsie Saturday to draw
attention to problems alleged in a federal lawsuit filed last month.
The Fair Housing Justice Center, a nonprofit civil rights organization, conducted undercover investigations, showing alleged racial discrimination in lending practices against minorities.
Rural and Migrant Ministry, Inc., a Poughkeepsie-based nonprofit with union and faith-based affiliations spearheaded the weekend rallies to raise awareness, explained organizer Richard Witt.
“As an account holder and member of the community, I was very disturbed,” Witt said. “When you paint that on the wider societal canvas right now, it seems there are an emerging set of racist behavior, and a growing acceptance of institutionalized racism.”
About a dozen concerned citizens turned up at the Kingston and New Paltz locations, and twice that number gathered in Poughkeepsie.
Michelle Meach of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Kingston said the gatherings were not protests.
What we’re here to do is offer a space of vigil, where we can bring attention to racial bias, when and where it happens,” Meach said.
Placards reading “our community welcomes all people,” displayed to passing motorists along Washington Avenue, outside the man headquarters of Ulster Savings in Kingston.       
“We want to be in support and solidarity with that kind of sentiment,” Meach said, adding that the intent was to raise consciousness, rather than to point fingers.
Witt hoped the rallies put pressure on the bank to be more thoughtful on how it could help prevent housing discrimination. Better training, policies and programs are among the reparations he suggested.
According to the federal complaint, Ulster Savings, between 2011 and 2015, made only 40 primary loans to African-American borrowers – out of a total of 1,599 such mortgages (2.5 percent). “And, out of the 112 loans made across Long Island over the same time period, only a single one was to an African American borrower,” the lawsuit alleged.
The group held a brief prayer vigil following a one-hour demonstration, and then quietly dispersed. 

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