Like every big bank in America, Wells Fargo behaved badly during the housing market run-up of 2005-2008, and afterward, engaging in various shady practices, including predatory lending and "robo-signing," that eventually resulted in settlements with regulators.
It's hard to know how many people lost their homes thanks to this bank's abusive lending and foreclosure practices, but the answer is probably "a lot."
And so we find it a tad ironic how the Wells Fargo Housing Foundation, a philanthropic arm of the bank, works to help distressed communities hurt by foreclosure.
Wouldn't it have made more sense to just give people fair loans in the first place? Or to truly work with homeowners to avoid foreclosure?
Well, yeah, but let's look forward, shall we? Corporations should help clean up the messes they make, and more philanthropic support for housing groups is always a welcome thing. So we were cheered to see that the Wells Fargo Housing Foundation has just-announced $6 million in grants for 54 housing nonprofits across the country.
These grants come on top of millions of dollars the foundation has already given out across 100 communities over the past five years through the the foundation's Priority Markets Program, which provides grant support for "neighborhood stabilization projects that are located in areas designated for revitalization to stimulate growth, stability and investment in distressed areas."
Local Habitat for Humanity groups were among the top recipients of this latest round of grants.
One geographic focal point of Wells Fargo's housing grants has been Trenton, N.J., where it directed $1.1 million in grants in August, with the lion's share of that money, $900,000, subsidized by the state's Neighborhood Revitalization Tax Credit program.
One of the initiatives the Trenton money will be used to fund is REHEET, an innovative program that provides both home repair and weatherization, as well as youth development and case management. Funding will also be used to rehab a large building and turn it into a community facility for job training and other services. Other funding will go toward community gardens in Trenton's historic district and to study some abandoned properties for their rehab potential. The full list of Trenton projects can be found here.
It isn't lost on us that Trenton is a majority non-white city, and thus a fitting place for Wells Fargo to make amends, given how its past predatory lending practices reportedly singled out black and Latino homeowners. The bank also paid hefty fines for neglecting the maintenance and marketing of foreclosed homes in black and Latino neighborhoods across the country.
Unfortunately, though, when it comes to bad behavior by banks, the past is often prologue as these institutions have a tendency to be repeat offenders. Reuters reported in February 2014 that Wells Fargo was getting back into the business of giving out subprime home loans.