Trident Mortgage Co. helps more families buy homes in Philadelphia and neighboring Camden, New Jersey, than any other company, but it primarily serves one demographic: white people.
That is no coincidence. All of Trident's offices are in white neighborhoods, where it makes the overwhelming majority of its loans to white homebuyers. And Trident employs a nearly all-white team of mortgage consultants.
It's a division of Berkshire Hathaway, the giant holding company led by Warren Buffett, which has dramatically expanded its mortgage brokerage portfolio in recent years, reporting nearly 28,000 loans worth $7.3 billion last year.
The potential for more growth clearly caught the eye of the octogenarian investor.
"HomeServices is on track to do only about 3 percent of the country's home-brokerage business in 2018," Buffett wrote in his most recent shareholders report, referring to HomeServices of America Inc., which controls Trident and two other mortgage companies. "That leaves 97 percent to go."
But as they've become major players in cities across America, Berkshire Hathaway's affiliated mortgage companies have followed a consistent pattern. Government lending data reviewed by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting shows the companies direct their lending toward white borrowers and white neighborhoods, even in metros like Philadelphia where a majority of residents are people of color.
The analysis is part of Reveal's ongoing coverage of modern-day redlining in America, which found 61 metro area s, from Jacksonville, Florida to Tacoma, Washington, where people of color were significantly more likely to be denied a conventional home loan than their white counterparts. This was true even when people of color earned the same amount of money as white loan applicants, wanted to take on the same size loan or buy in the same neighborhood.
Reveal's analysis also found people of color were far more likely to be denied a loan in many of Berkshire Hathaway's largest markets, including Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC. It makes loans through three firms , Trident Mortgage, HomeServices Lending LLC and Prosperity Home Mortgage LLC. Here's a breakdown:
- In Philadelphia, Trident Mortgage made 1,721 conventional home purchase loans in 2015 and 2016, 47 of them to African Americans and 42 to Latinos.
- In Atlanta, HomeServices Lending made 1,358 conventional home purchase loans, 63 to African Americans and 46 to Latinos.
- In Washington, D.C., Prosperity Home Mortgage made 2,650 conventional home purchase loans, including 167 to African Americans and 144 to Latinos.
Legal experts said Berkshire Hathaway's mortgage companies were carrying out the very practices outlawed by the Fair Housing Act, a 50-year-old law that banned racial discrimination in lending, by locating their branches in white neighborhoods, employing mortgage consultants who - from their websites - appear to be overwhelmingly white and lending mostly to white borrowers.
"It sounds to me like they are intentionally avoiding doing business with people of color," said Allison Bethel, director of the fair housing clinic at the John Marshall Law School in Chicago.
Representatives of Berkshire Hathaway and its affiliated mortgage companies declined to give interviews for this story. In a statement, HomeServices of America said it was "categorically false" to imply its "lenders are trying to ensure that they don't get applications from people of color."
Berkshire Hathaway's "lenders have constantly focused on improving access to mortgage loans in minority communities," the statement said, adding that the companies "actively recruit diverse candidates and are committed to cultivating a diverse workforce."
"Respectfully, a mortgage officer is not the only relevant employee to consider," the company said in a follow-up email. Trident's entire staff is 82 percent white, it said, as is HomeServices Lending's. Prosperity Home Mortgage's staff is 70 percent white.
Reveal conducted a market share analysis covering millions of loan records, made available under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, employing techniques the Federal Reserve and the Department of Justice use to spotlight lending disparities.
The analysis compared the racial breakdown of mortgage lending for every lender in every city in America. It showed Berkshire Hathaway's mortgage companies took in a far greater proportion of their conventional loan applications from white homebuyers than their competitors in its largest markets in 2015 and 2016.
The figures were especially stark for Trident, which placed all of its 55 loan centers across Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania in majority-white neighborhoods, Reveal's analysis found. The analysis also showed 92 percent of the company's conventional home loan applications came from borrowers in majority-white neighborhoods. When it did lend in neighborhoods where the majority of residents were people of color, most of the loans still went to whites.
Lack of diversity
Berkshire Hathaway's mortgage business has the hallmarks of one that could be prosecuted for "failure to serve" under the Fair Housing Act, according to Eric Halperin, a former federal prosecutor who oversaw fair lending cases during President Barack Obama's first term. That's when "you take a series of actions that ensure you don't get applications from people of color," he said.
The lack of diversity in Trident's staffing and lending disturbed Beth Warshaw, 38, a white manager at a local arts nonprofit, who last year bought a two-bedroom brick row house in a primarily African American neighborhood of South Philadelphia.
Warshaw worked with a white loan real estate agent and white loan officer from Trident.
"It struck me how white everything was," she said. "Somebody is not asking themselves the right questions, including me."
The government lending data analyzed by Reveal also showed Trident served a much smaller and whiter section of the Philadelphia area than the region's No. 2 lender, Wells Fargo, which overall took in a slightly smaller number of conventional home purchase applications. Trident made 26 times as many conventional loans to white homebuyers as blacks in Philadelphia in 2015 and 2016, the government data show. For Wells Fargo, that ratio was seven to one.
In its statement, HomeServices of America said Trident plans this June to launch "a campaign in many Philadelphia majority-minority areas as well as in Camden, New Jersey and Allentown, Pennsylvania to attract minority applicants."
Leaders in Philadelphia's African American community - including those who work to promote homeownership - said they had never heard of Trident.
In Nicetown, a section of North Philadelphia where vacant, boarded-up row homes dot the landscape, the chief operating officer of the local community development corporation said she would love it if Trident's loan officers would attend one of her homebuyers clubs.
"It would help us a lot," said Majeedah Rashid. "This community needs help. It needs investment."