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Justice Department Updates on Efforts of ‘Combating Redlining Initiative’

The U.S. Justice Department has announced that its Combating Redlining Initiative has secured more than $107 million in relief for communities of color nationwide that have experienced lending discrimination by banks or other mortgage lending businesses.

As a part of the $107 million, the Department also announced a new $9 million agreement with Ameris Bank to resolve allegations that Ameris engaged in a pattern or practice of redlining predominately Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in Jacksonville, Florida.

Redlining is an illegal practice in which lenders avoid providing credit services to individuals living in or seeking to live in, communities of color because of the race, color, or national origin of the residents in those communities.

“As today’s case makes clear, redlining is not just a relic of the past,” said U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “That is why, two years ago this month, the Justice Department launched our Combating Redlining Initiative, and once today’s settlement is approved, that Initiative will have secured more than $100 million for communities across the country that have been harmed by discriminatory lending practices. This work is just the beginning – the Justice Department currently has over two dozen active investigations into redlining, spanning neighborhoods across the country.”

In October 2021, Attorney General Garland announced the Combating Redlining Initiative, the Department’s enforcement effort to address redlining. The Department has partnered with U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, federal financial regulatory agencies, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and state Attorneys General offices to enforce federal fair lending laws that prohibit redlining, including the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA).

Since 2021, the Justice Department has secured 10 settlement agreements with banks and mortgage lending institutions to provide credit opportunities to communities of color in Houston, Memphis, Philadelphia, Camden, Wilmington, Newark, Los Angeles, Columbus, Tulsa, Rhode Island, and now Jacksonville. These agreements have provided millions of dollars to redlined communities and have helped to make homeownership a reality for families of color who have been unfairly denied access to credit.

The Justice Department’s latest resolution with Ameris Bank was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, along with the Department’s complaint, and is subject to court approval. The Department’s complaint alleges that, from 2016 through 2021, Ameris Bank avoided providing mortgage services to majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in Jacksonville and discouraged people seeking credit in those communities from obtaining home loans. Ameris’ home mortgage lending was focused disproportionately on white areas of Jacksonville while other lenders generated applications in majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhoods at three times the rate of Ameris. Although Ameris operates 18 branches in Jacksonville, Ameris has never operated a branch in a majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhood in the city.

The neighborhoods that the Department alleges Ameris redlined in Jacksonville are some of the same neighborhoods that were first redlined by Home Ownership Loan Corporation maps in the 1930s.

“Combating modern day redlining is one of the most important strategies for ensuring equal economic opportunity today,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “By taking on the discriminatory lending practices of banks and mortgage companies, we are helping to ensure that more Black, Hispanic, and other communities of color are able to buy a home, generate wealth, and fulfill the American Dream. This settlement marks a new pinnacle in our efforts to bring an end to redlining and provides tangible relief to communities that have been starved of access to credit for far too long.”

Under the proposed consent order, which is subject to court approval, Ameris Bank will invest $9 million to increase credit opportunities for communities of color in Jacksonville. Specifically, Ameris will:

  • Invest $7.5 million in a loan subsidy fund that will be made available to residents of majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhoods and those seeking credit in those communities.
  • Invest $900,000 in advertising and outreach targeted toward the residents of these neighborhoods.
  • Invest $600,000 to develop community partnerships to provide services that increase access to residential mortgage credit.
  • Open a new branch in a majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhood in Jacksonville.
  • Ensure that at least three mortgage loan officers are dedicated to serving majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhoods.
  • Retain a consultant to assess the bank’s compliance management system as it pertains to redlining risk.
  • Employ a full-time Director of Community Lending who will oversee the continued development of lending in majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in Jacksonville.

“For far too long, redlining has negatively impacted communities of color across our country,” said U.S. Attorney Roger B. Handberg for the Middle District of Florida. “Today’s agreement with Ameris Bank represents the first redlining case brought by the Department of Justice in the state of Florida and signals a step forward for Black and Hispanic communities in Jacksonville that were previously denied access to economic resources for generations. This settlement means that Ameris Bank will provide financial remedies to Jacksonville’s underserved communities, and it demonstrates our commitment to guaranteeing equal access to housing and credit resources for all Americans.”

About Author: Eric C. Peck

Eric C. Peck has 20-plus years’ experience covering the mortgage industry, he most recently served as Editor-in-Chief for The Mortgage Press and National Mortgage Professional Magazine. Peck graduated from the New York Institute of Technology where he received his B.A. in Communication Arts/Media. After graduating, he began his professional career with Videography Magazine before landing in the mortgage space. Peck has edited three published books and has served as Copy Editor for Entrepreneur.com.

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