Washington Trust “vehemently” denied the allegations leveled by the Justice Department last fall, but agreed to invest and spend at least $9 million to improve access to mortgage credit in minority neighborhoods in Rhode Island.

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After settling redlining accusations leveled by federal regulators last year, the nation’s oldest community bank has launched a Spanish-language version of its website to provide a better experience for Hispanic and Latino customers in New England.

Westerly, Rhode Island-based Washington Trust in September agreed to invest and spend at least $9 million to improve access to mortgage credit in minority neighborhoods in Rhode Island to resolve redlining claims brought by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Washington Trust “vehemently” denied the allegations leveled by the Justice Department last fall, which included an analysis of records demonstrating that only 2 percent of the mortgage loans made by the bank from 2016 through 2021 were in majority-Black and Hispanic areas.

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In announcing the launch of a Spanish version of its website Thursday — including a dedicated landing page for mortgages — Washington Trust continued to defend its past record.

Edward O. “Ed” Handy III

“Washington Trust is committed to inclusivity and ensuring all community members have access to the financial tools and information that will help them on their journey to economic empowerment,” Washington Trust Chairman and CEO Edward O. “Ned” Handy III said in a statement. “While we’ve had Spanish materials and advertising for years, the Spanish version of our website ensures members of the Hispanic/ Latino community can more easily engage with us online.”

Washington Trust said it partnered with Envision Technology Advisors and Be Moore Interpreting, “to ensure website content was proficiently and efficiently translated into Spanish.”

Depending on the borrower, lenders may have to do more than market to them in the language they’re most comfortable with. To ensure borrowers understand the terms of the loan they’re being offered, lenders may also need to provide loan disclosures and transaction documents in that language.

Last year the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Department of Justice sued a Texas-based developer and lender accused of marketing predatory loans in Spanish but closing the loans in English.

Washington Trust’s Spanish-language mortgage landing page invites users to connect with a mortgage specialist, who will help them “get the answers you need at every step of the process so you get the best loan possible.” The website also provides disclosures in Spanish.

Washington Trust did not immediately respond to a request for comment on other steps it’s taking to help Spanish-speaking borrowers apply for loans and understand the terms of offers they receive.

Guaranteed Rate’s Spanish language access program, for example, includes loan disclosures that describe loan terms and fees, allowing the company to take borrowers all the way from application through closing entirely in Spanish.

Mortgage technology provider Maxwell helps small-to-midsize mortgage lenders provide similar services. Maxwell’s Spanish-language point-of-sale platform allows borrowers to complete mortgage applications in Spanish or English, offering the ability to switch back and forth between languages at any time.

In settling with the Justice Department last year, Washington Trust agreed to invest at least $7 million in a loan subsidy fund to increase access to mortgage credit for residents of majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in Rhode Island and to spend another $2 million on community partnerships, advertising and outreach.

Washington Trust also agreed to open two new branches in majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in Rhode Island, ensure at least two mortgage loan officers are dedicated to serving these neighborhoods, and employ a director of community lending to oversee the continued development of lending in communities of color.

The Department of Justice’s ongoing Combating Redlining Initiative has resulted in settlements with a dozen lenders totaling more than $122 million to date, including:

  • First National Bank of Pennsylvania, which in February agreed to invest at least $11.75 million in a loan subsidy fund to provide better access to mortgages and home improvement loans to residents of majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in the Charlotte and Winston-Salem, North Carolina, markets.
  • Jacksonville, Florida-based Ameris Bank, which agreed in October 2023 to a $9 million settlement aimed at improving access to credit in majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhoods.
  • Newark, Ohio-based Park National Bank agreed in February 2023 to invest at least $7.75 million in a loan subsidy fund to increase access to credit in majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in the Columbus area.
  • In what was touted as the biggest redlining settlement ever reached by the Department of Justice, City National Bank in January 2023 agreed to invest at least $31 million in majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in Los Angeles County.
  • Lakeland Bank in September 2022 agreed to invest at least $12 million in a loan subsidy fund for residents of Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in the Newark, New Jersey, metropolitan area, including neighborhoods in Essex, Somerset and Union counties.
  • Berkshire Hathaway-owned Trident Mortgage Company in July 2022 agreed to invest more than $20 million to create homeownership opportunities in communities of color around Philadelphia.

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