Payday Lenders In Houston Face Possible Consumer Protection Regulations

stock.xchng photo
Payday and auto title lenders are at the center of the latest Houston City Council debate. Mayor Annise Parker wants to regulate the industry — but councilmembers are skeptical.

Nearly a year ago, Mayor Parker announced her intention to regulate the payday lending industry, but waited to see what would happen at the state level.

The legislature failed to pass a bill, so Parker is unveiling her modified proposal that closely mirrors those already in place in Austin, Dallas, San Antonio and El Paso.

"I think the City of Houston, by adopting an ordinance that is similar, in all material aspects, to those in other cities, we send a clear signal to the state legislature and we also establish a platform that we hope that cities across the state adopt."

The proposal from the administration would limit the number of times a client could roll over or renew a payday loan. Payday lenders would also be required to register with the city and to maintain records of who borrows money, how much and how often.

City Attorney David Feldman says they also want to limit the amount of  money people can borrow.

"The maximum amount that can be loaned to the consumer is 20 percent of their gross monthly income."

While a few councilmembers were enthusiastically in support of the proposal, several more expressed concerns.

This is Councilmember Ed Gonzalez, who represents District H.

"You know there's many in my community that'll probably go to the neighborhood cantina and have to access the loan sharks, simply because that's another access point for them. So I need to make sure I'm studying this carefully."

That idea of illegal or unregulated lending sources springing up was a theme among the dissenting councilmembers.

District E Councilmember Dave Martin says the payday lending industry is a necessary one and limiting it might create problems for low-income families.

"I think we're looking for a solution where there truly isn't a problem. So the over-regulation of this may be a cause for error, instead of trying to help people I think we may be hurting people."

But At-Large Councilmember Stephen Costello supports the mayor's plan.

"I really believe in the free market system, until I had an opportunity to actually explore this particular market. Payday lenders and title loan lenders do fill a void and a need in the community. But there's one thing to be filling a void and a need and providing a service, the other thing is to be predatory."

Some councilmembers have asked for the ordinance to come up for a vote before the break at the end of the year.

But if there aren't enough votes to pass it, the administration is likely to hold the vote after the new year, when new councilmembers are sworn into office in January.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...