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Queens bank merger raises questions

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City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan), Councilman David Weprin (D- Hollis), 10 other council members and housing advocates gathered at City Hall to ask the state Banking Department not to approve an application by New York Community Bank to acquire the smaller Atlantic Bank of New York until the larger bank re-evaluates its process of granting mortgages. New York Community Bank owns Queens County Savings.Quinn also called for public hearings to be held on allegations that New York Community Bank has engaged in questionable lending and mortgaging practices.Representatives for housing advocacy group New York ACORN found in a recent study of the 100 worst landlords in the city that New York Community Bank gave mortgages to 11 of them. In addition, the bank has granted mortgages to 231 residential properties with an average of three violations per apartment and has not forced its mortgaged landlords to fix up their properties, ACORN Executive Director Bertha Lewis said."We definitely oppose this merger and feel that banks ought to adhere to a good repair clause wherever they make mortgages," she said."New York Community Bank is proud of its long record of being a major provider of funds to support housing in the New York area," the bank said in a statement. "Over the past five years, we have financed well over $10 billion of loans to local real estate markets, primarily for the renovation and upgrade of properties.We have been recognized for our service to New York with an 'Outstanding' Community Reinvestment Act designation, the highest level of ranking."New York Community Bank operates 140 branch offices in New York City, Long Island, Westchester County and New Jersey under various names. The bank was founded in 1859 in Queens and currently operates 34 locations in the borough as the Queens County Savings Bank, which has branches in Astoria, Bayside, Corona, Flushing, Jackson Heights, Fresh Meadows, Howard Beach, Forest Hills, Ridgewood, Woodside, Kew Gardens, Long Island City, Ozone Park and Little Neck.In October, New York Community Bank announced that it would pay $400 million in cash to acquire Atlantic Bank, which has four branches in Astoria and one in Flushing as well as 12 other branches in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Nassau and Westchester Counties.Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis), who joined Quinn at City Hall last week to help hold off the merger, said it is not the intention of council members to stop the acquisition."I am not optimistic about stopping the merger, but that is not the ultimate goal," he said. "We want to bring the two parties to the table. (The Banking Department) needs to look very closely at the loans the bank is giving before the merger goes through."A spokeswoman for the Banking Department said the public comment period about the merger ended Sunday, and that a decision about the merger would not be made until the state Banking board meets and reviews all comments. She said the review period will take a few weeks and the board may vote on the merger at its March 2 meeting, although this is not guaranteed.Reach reporter Nathan Duke by email at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

Posted 7:07 pm, October 10, 2011
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