Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Thank you, Attorney General Garland. I am proud to join you and U.S. Attorney Roger Handberg for the Middle District of Florida today to mark this significant and unprecedented achievement in the Justice Department’s Combating Redlining Initiative.
Today, the Justice Department filed a complaint and a proposed consent decree that, once approved by the court, requires Ameris Bank to pay $9 million dollars to resolve our allegations that the bank redlined majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhoods here in Jacksonville. Ameris is a bank with nearly $25 billion in assets that operates in nine states across the southeast and mid-Atlantic.
Specifically, our complaint alleges that Ameris violated the Fair Housing Act and Equal Credit Opportunity Act, two federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination in lending. Our analysis found that from 2016 through 2021, Ameris failed to provide mortgage lending services to majority-Black and Hispanic communities in Jacksonville. Among other things, we found that in one-third of all majority-Black and Hispanic tracts in Jacksonville, Ameris did not obtain a single application over the entire six-year period – but peer lenders did receive applications in these areas.
We also allege that Ameris has never operated a branch in a Black and Hispanic neighborhood in Jacksonville, even though majority-Black and Hispanic census tracts account for nearly 20% of the bank’s service area. Exhibit C in our complaint shows Ameris’ 18 branches in Jacksonville, and the green dots depict each mortgage loan application that Ameris received from 2016 through 2021. As you see, the green dots show a majority of applications were from majority white neighborhoods south of the St. Johns River. In contrast, there is a significant lack of applications from the majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhoods shown in the red and orange shaded area, particularly downtown where over 80% of the residents are Black or Hispanic. Our statistical analysis revealed that Ameris’ peer lending institutions were receiving applications in majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhoods at three times the rate of Ameris.
Our analysis also found that Ameris did not make sufficient efforts to reach neighborhoods of color – in fact, mortgage bankers failed to serve those communities, and marketing and outreach efforts were directed towards white communities. And finally, we allege that Ameris knew of its redlining risk in Black and Hispanic communities in Jacksonville for years, but it did not take any corrective action to address the risk and reach out to communities of color in Jacksonville.
As Attorney General Garland just explained, there is a direct connection between historic redlining and “modern-day” redlining that highlights the devastating effects of race discrimination that becomes entrenched in a community and can reverberate through generations.
Redlining has a significant impact on the health and wealth of these communities. Homeownership has been one of the most effective ways that Americans have built wealth in our country. When families can’t access credit to achieve homeownership, they lose an opportunity to share in this country’s prosperity. The gaps in homeownership rates contribute to staggering gaps in family wealth: the median wealth of a Black family is $45,000 and a Hispanic family is $62,000, compared to $285,000 for a white family.
A 2023 study by the National Association of Realtors indicates significant homeownership gaps across the state of Florida; the study found that while 75% of white Floridians own their homes, only 55% of Hispanic Floridians own a home, and only 49% of Black Floridians own a home. These numbers are a product of systemic deprivation of credit and wealth-building opportunities. This is why we are committed to confronting redlining.
The resolution we have secured will provide the remedies necessary to promote racial justice and equity to underserved communities of color in Jacksonville. And I want to highlight one critical component. Under this agreement, Ameris will provide a $7.5 million loan subsidy fund to help borrowers in Jacksonville who live in underserved communities access home loans. This is transformative relief that will unlock the door to homeownership and intergenerational wealth for residents in communities of color in Jacksonville.
It’s important we are making this announcement here in the City of Jacksonville – a city that has a long history of civil rights advocacy. It was the home of James Weldon Johnson - the renowned and accomplished civil rights activist, prolific writer and poet, diplomat, professor and leader of the NAACP. Jacksonville was also the site of civil rights protests dating all the way back to the early twentieth century where residents boldly organized and participated in protests and boycotts of the city’s segregated streetcar system. Decades later in the 1960s, Black protestors participated in lunch counter sit-ins, even at the risk of physical violence and abuse, including the infamous “Ax Handle Saturday” attack. I hope that today’s announcement builds on that proud tradition, and fuels ongoing efforts to ensure full equality for all.
We are sending a message today – banks and mortgage companies need not wait for the Justice Department to come knocking at its door. We encourage financial institutions to proactively assess their redlining risk and immediately take corrective action to reach underserved communities in their market areas. We will not stand idly by while financial institutions avoid communities of color in their markets or erect barriers that make it harder for residents in underserved communities to receive lending opportunities. These communities have waited far too long for equal credit opportunity, and they are entitled to equal access to credit that the law demands now.
Combating modern day redlining is one of the most important strategies for ensuring equal economic opportunity today. 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.
I want to thank colleagues in the Civil Rights Division and here in the Middle District of Florida for their work and efforts. I also want to thank the Citi Teen Center for hosting us this morning. Founded as the Boys Club of Jacksonville in 1962, this organization, situated in the heart of a community that has been redlined for far too long, has provided critical support to strengthen families and, most importantly, you have empowered youth to reach their full potential.
I’ll now turn the floor over to U.S. Attorney Handberg to provide more information about our resolution with Ameris.