by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, December 2016) A petition drive is under way to collect signatures of people who would like to keep the Fifth Third Bank branch at 3500 Lorain Avenue in the neighborhood. Fifth Third bank recently announced it would be closing the branch by the beginning of next year.
Working out of the Organize Ohio office, upstairs from where the bank is located, Charles Bromley is marshalling an effort to keep the bank branch open. Bromley says organizers working out of the Organize Ohio office are collecting signatures of people opposed to the bank closing. They are also surveying bank customers to find out why they use this bank branch. Thus far the biggest reason is location and convenience for both area businesses and residents.
Bromley says if Fifth Third Bank closes the branch, they may be in violation of a recent agreement with the National Community Reinvestment Coalition. In signing the agreement on November 18, 2016, Fifth Third Bank was widely praised for its commitment to a $30 billion community development plan for communities where it has branches. Bromley says that prior to the agreement, Fifth Third had been cited by the Federal Reserve for loan discrimination. They received a rating of “Needs to Improve,” one of the poorest ratings a bank can receive. He says the agreement with the National Community Reinvestment Coalition will help Fifth Third in an effort to receive a higher rating.
An article in the Cincinnati Business Courier by reporter Steve Watkins, titled “Fifth Third gets low rating in Fed review,” indicates Fifth Third Bank was cited for “a practice that allowed car dealers to charge higher interest rates to consumer auto loan borrowers on the basis of race and national origin for Fifth Third loans, another involving deceptive practices in marketing debt protection for credit cards and one involving allegations of discrimination on the basis and the receipt of public assistance.” The article also says that the low rating would count against Fifth Third in any application for a merger or acquisition of another bank.
The agreement between Fifth Third Bank and the National Community Reinvestment Coalition’s (NCRC) is praised on both organizations websites. A statement about the agreement on the Fifth Third Bank website indicates that one of the promises of the agreement involves bank branches. “The Fifth Third Impact programming includes branch and staff commitments. Fifth Third will seek to open at least 10 more branches in LMI (low and moderate income) and/or high minority communities,” says the Fifth Third Bank statement about the agreement.
Bromley says the Fifth Third branch at 3500 Lorain Avenue has “$18 million in deposits and provides services to low income people in the neighborhood as well as merchants.” He notes the bank is also on two major bus lines – the Lorain Avenue and Fulton bus lines- and serves a large Hispanic population.
Bromley sees Fifth Third Bank’s plans to close the branch as a violation of the branch and staff commitments Fifth Third just made in the agreement with the NCRC. He says if the branch closes, the nearest Fifth Third branch will be in Tremont on Professor Avenue.
Once the signatures on the petition are gathered, Bromley says a public meeting will be called. Individuals interested in attending the meeting or signing the petition can contact Organize Ohio at 216-651-2606 for more information.
Editor’s Historical Note: The Fifth Third bank branch is located on the first floor of a bank building at 3500 Lorain Avenue built in 1918 as a Cleveland Trust Bank Branch. The building was rehabbed in 2003 through a partnership of Ohio City Near West Development Corporation (now Ohio City Inc.), The Cleveland Green Building Coalition and Cleveland Urban Properties. It became home of the Cleveland Environmental Center. At the time the rehab was touted as the first commercial green rehabilitation project in the State of Ohio. The bank branch on the first floor of the building was viewed as a major anchor which helped make the project feasible.