Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco

Community Development

The Community Reinvestment Act and Small Business Lending in Low- and Moderate-Income Neighborhoods during the Financial Crisis

Author(s):

October 4, 2010

Community Development Working Papers

Over the last three years, the financial crisis and ensuing recession have led to tectonic shifts in the availability of credit, especially for small businesses. Data show that the number of loans to small businesses has dropped from 5.2 million loans in 2007 to 1.6 million in 2009. This trend is of significant concern to policy-makers, particularly given the important role that small businesses play in the US economy. Making credit accessible to small businesses, therefore, is seen as a critical component of economic recovery. Despite this policy focus, however, few studies have documented recent trends in small business lending, and even fewer have focused attention on the implications of the reduction in credit for small businesses in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods.

In this paper, we seek to address this gap by examining trends in small business lending in low- and moderate-income (LMI) neighborhoods by large banks regulated under the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA). We find that there is a strong relationship between the boom and bust housing market cycle and patterns in small business lending, both over time and over space. While small business lending expanded rapidly between 2003 and 2007, this expansion was uneven, and neither LMI communities nor neighborhoods with a high percentage of African American residents appear to have benefited as much as other areas from the boom. Since 2007, small business lending has contracted significantly, particularly in areas that have also seen contractions in the housing sector. Our results show significant spillover effects of the mortgage crisis into small business lending—for the economy as a whole as well as for LMI areas in particular. Our findings suggest that in order to reverse the cycle of disinvestment in neighborhoods hit hard by foreclosures, we need to address the small business sector as well as housing.

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