American Predatory Lending and the Global Financial Crisis (2019-2020)


Ten years after the failure of Lehman Brothers – the event commonly viewed as ground zero of the financial crisis – there is still debate about the causes of the crisis and the efficacy of policy responses. However, there is little debate about the central role subprime home loans originated by mortgage brokers and banks played in the crisis.

Abusive and predatory conduct in the home loan market was a matter of concern for policymakers well before the crisis, but the Federal Reserve did not fully implement powers to regulate the mortgage market conferred on it by Congress. Many state and local governments did enact legislation in response to abusive and predatory conduct in the low- and moderate-income market by mortgage brokers and bankers.

A common explanation for federal policymakers’ failure to act and opposition to state action was a concern about creating a “patchwork quilt” of regulation that would restrict access to credit. However, state and local governments saw abuses in the mortgage market as a signal that something was wrong. This project will explore these divergent responses and the implications for preventing the next financial crisis.

Project Description

This Bass Connections project will deepen the public’s understanding of the policy and market dynamics in the run-up to the global financial crisis and seek to explain the divergent responses among federal, state and local policymakers as well as the implications for preventing the next financial crisis. This objective will be achieved through a multimethod and interdisciplinary exploration of signals and stories in the run-up to the crisis.

The project team will begin by collecting and analyzing the mortgage market data available to stakeholders in the run-up to the crisis and revisiting the debate over potential legislative responses. Particular focus will be placed on public data regarding the state of the home mortgage market from 1997-2006, including (but not limited to) the size of the market, market composition, home ownership rates, default and foreclosure rates, press coverage of the mortgage market, regulatory oversight and public statement by governmental leaders about home mortgages.

Drawing on this analysis of signals, team members will collect oral histories from people on the front lines, including consumer advocates, state attorneys general and their staffs, state financial regulators, housing counselors, bankers and mortgage lenders.

The initial collection of signals and stories will focus on North Carolina, because it is home to organizations that are central to this narrative and provides the opportunity to engage with locally available resources. However, the goal is to expand from this foundation and employ an iterative data collection strategy.

Ultimately, the team’s catalogue and analysis of signals and stories will provide a comprehensive account of the state and local experience in the run-up to the crisis. This archive will be shared in a searchable format online so that it can be used by scholars, government officials and journalists wishing to supplement their understanding of the crisis and inform future policy debates.

Anticipated Outputs

Searchable digital archive cataloguing stories, signals and analysis related to the global financial crisis and the state of the home mortgage market from 1997-2006; chapter series or journal special issue related to data analysis and/or oral histories; short publications on The FinReg Blog detailing findings and their connection to contemporary regulatory policy debates


Fall 2019 – Spring 2020

  • Fall 2019: Begin team meetings; review Data+ team’s analysis; identify targets and prepare for oral history interviews; conduct independent research on the legislative and regulatory changes leading up to the crisis
  • Spring 2020: Begin conducting oral histories; edit and collectively review oral histories; begin development of archive and searchable digital database

This Team in the News

Meet the Members of the 2019-2020 Bass Connections Student Advisory Council

See related 2019 Data+ summer project, American Predatory Lending and the Global Financial Crisis (2019).


Image: Rally to demand accountability from the financial institutions and legal action against bankers, by Fibonacci Blue, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Rally to demand accountability from the financial institutions and legal action against bankers.

Team Leaders

  • Edward Balleisen, Sanford School of Public Policy|Arts & Sciences-History
  • Lee Reiners, Duke Law-Global Financial Markets Center
  • Joseph Smith, Former North Carolina Commissioner of Banks

/graduate Team Members

  • Kathryn Coulter, Interdisciplinary Data Science - Masters
  • Hayley Lawrence, Juris Doctor, Master of Laws
  • Carolyn Naughton, Masters of Public Policy, Business Administration-MBA

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Michael Cai, Statistical Science (BS), Economics (BS2)
  • Andrew Carlins, Economics (BS), History (AB2)
  • Despoina Chouliara, Economics (BS), Mathematics (BS2)
  • Joseph Edwards, Economics (BS), Computer Science (BS2)
  • Daniel Gardner, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Jett Hollister, Mechanical Engineering (BSE)
  • Cameron Polo
  • Ahana Sen
  • Jessie Xu
  • Charlie Zong
  • Justina Zou, Statistical Science (BS)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Sara Greene, Duke Law
  • Emma Rasiel, Arts & Sciences-Economics
  • Sarah Bloom Raskin, Rubenstein Fellows Academy

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Erin Cully
  • Kate Karstens, Undergraduate Student, UNC-Chapel Hill
  • Sean Nguyen, Undergraduate Student, UNC-Chapel Hill