Last month, I had the honor of joining an historic convening of AAPI community leaders from across the country organized by our Office of Community Affairs here at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Raj Date, the Special Advisor to the Secretary of the Treasury for the CFPB, shared his vision for the Bureau with the National Coalition of Asian Pacific American Community Development Organizations (CAPACD). This coalition is comprised of AAPI community leaders representing diverse constituencies from around the country.
Many of the assembled leaders represent communities directly impacted by fair lending and consumer finance issues. They know from first-hand experience that no one is immune from predatory lending that deceives households seeking the American Dream.
We all know that mortgage paperwork is complicated. As Nam Pham, a community leader from Dorchester, Massachusetts, explained, if American-born citizens with fluent English are getting cheated or misunderstand the mortgage process, how are AAPIs with limited English proficiency supposed to get a fair deal?
We heard from Michael Byun, from Asian Services in Action in Cleveland, Ohio, that fair homeownership needs to be more accessible, both through providing more loan documents in plain English, and translating those documents into AAPI languages. Participants were excited to learn that the CFPB currently offers a complaint helpline that has interpretation available in 189 languages.
We heard about the potential value of determining credit worthiness by a broader range of measures that low-wealth people can demonstrate. Rather than relying only on traditional assets that many immigrant communities often lack, this could include on-time cell phone and rent payments, for example.
We heard that AAPI communities need access to more financial literacy training and that training needs must be offered by providers with language and cultural competency to have the biggest impact.
We also heard about best practices that are making a real impact for future generations. One community organization is linking tax preparation assistance with federal student aid application assistance because the former process provides information necessary to complete the latter.
Our sense that there is great variation in financial literacy and access to fair lending among AAPI communities was reinforced by the experiences of the leaders in the room, who came from cities including Houston, Texas; Atlanta, Georgia; and Honolulu, Hawaii. As we move forward with data collection and research efforts, we will be looking for ways to better understand that variation.
Meetings like these help the CFPB better understand the challenges households and communities across the country are facing. With this kind of input and dialogue, our agency will be better positioned to serve as a watchdog for the American consumer and make a real difference in people’s lives.
Nicholas Rathod serves as Assistant Director for Intergovernmental and International Affairs at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and is a member of the Interagency Working Group on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.