Remarks as Delivered
Good morning everyone. I am joined by Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Kristen Clarke, and U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida, Roger Handberg.
We are here today to announce a major development in the Justice Department’s [Combating] Redlining Initiative, which was made possible by the staffs of both of their offices.
But first, I would like to address those who are living with understandable fear in the wake of Hamas’s terrorist attacks on Israel.
As the FBI has noted, we are seeing an increase in reported threats against faith communities, particularly Jewish, Muslim, and Arab communities and institutions.
Last week, I directed all 94 of our United States Attorneys’ Offices and the FBI to be in close touch with federal, state, and local law enforcement partners in their districts. Yesterday I met with, and today and tomorrow I will continue to meet with, our U.S. Attorneys and federal, state, and local law enforcement officials here in Florida. I have also directed our U.S. Attorneys to reach out to religious and other community leaders in their districts to reaffirm our commitment to them and to assess what additional support they may need.
The entire Justice Department remains vigilant in our efforts to identify and respond to hate crimes, threats of violence, or related incidents, with particular attention to threats to faith communities. And, as always, the Justice Department remains focused on doing everything we can to keep Americans safe from the threat of terrorism.
We are here to announce Ameris Bank’s agreement to enter into a consent decree regarding our allegations that the bank engaged in redlining – in violation of the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act
Redlining occurs when lenders deny or discourage applications or avoid providing loans in neighborhoods because of the race, color, or national origin of the people who live in those neighborhoods.
Our complaint alleges that the bank denied or discouraged home loan applications and other credit opportunities services in [majority]-Black and Hispanic neighborhoods here in Jacksonville.
As a result of our investigation, we have reached a settlement agreement with Ameris. If approved by the court, the bank would pay $9 million to expand access to credit opportunities for residents of Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in Jacksonville.
This investigation is part of the Justice Department’s Combating Redlining Initiative, which I launched two years ago this month. Once this agreement is approved, the Initiative will have secured, in total, more than $100 million for communities across the country that have been harmed by discriminatory lending practices.
Our complaint alleges that the bank located its branches in specific areas of Jacksonville to serve majority-white neighborhoods and to avoid serving Black and Hispanic neighborhoods. This included failing to open even a single branch in a majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhood in Jacksonville, despite having opened 18 full-service branches in other parts of Jacksonville.
For example, we allege that, in 2019, Ameris closed two of its Jacksonville branches as part of a so-called “efficiency initiative.” Ameris had identified both of those branches as having “minority” populations “higher” than other nearby branch locations.
One of those branches, which was located within what Ameris called the “urban core” of Jacksonville, was the closest branch to most of the city’s majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhoods.
That branch was closed despite the fact that Ameris itself rated it as one of the “best financial performers” of all of its branches across the United States. Ameris did not close any branches in the majority-white areas of Jacksonville as part of this so-called “efficiency initiative.”
In another example, we allege that, in 2020, Ameris sent out a “free checking mailer” that the bank said was targeted to low- and moderate-income areas in majority-minority neighborhoods. Ameris mailed over 22,000 postcards with images of white models to thirteen zip codes in Jacksonville. Not one postcard was sent to a single resident in a majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhood.
Between 2016 and 2021, other lending institutions comparable to Ameris generated loan applications from residents of majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhoods at over three times the rate generated by Ameris.
The majority of the $9 million in relief that Ameris will pay under the consent order will be in the form of loan subsidy funds. These funds can be used by residents for down payments, to lower their interest rates, or to make home improvements that will increase the value of their homes.
In addition, the settlement requires Ameris to open or acquire its first full-service branch located in a majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhood in Jacksonville. That branch will located on [north of] the St. Johns River in a retail-oriented, visible location.
In a few moments, Assistant Attorney General Clarke and U.S. Attorney Handberg will provide additional information about the Ameris settlement.
Discrimination in lending has its roots in nearly century-old government programs that denied Black Americans access to credit services to obtain home ownership.
But as today’s case makes clear, redlining is not just a relic of the past. Indeed, some of the neighborhoods that we allege Ameris redlined are some of the same neighborhoods that federal agencies originally redlined in the 1930s.
Moreover, the harm of redlining is felt not only by individuals and communities redlined today, but also by the next generation and the next. Redlining makes it difficult for people of color to accumulate wealth through the purchase, refinancing, or repair of their homes. This has contributed to and it continues to deepen the persistent wealth gap in our country.
This kind of discrimination in lending violates federal law. And it is contrary to the promise of equal access to opportunity upon which both our economy and our democracy depend.
That is why, two years ago , I announced that the Justice Department would launch the new Combating Redlining Initiative I mentioned before. This initiative has brought together the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and our U.S. Attorney’s Offices with bank regulatory agencies and state attorneys general.
Over the past 24 months, we have reached a total of 10 settlements with lending institutions to resolve allegations of redlining.
And, as I said at the outset, subject to court approval of the Ameris settlement, the Justice Department will have secured more than $100 million for communities across the country that have been harmed by discriminatory [lending] practices.
In each of these cases, we reached resolutions that involved lenders making significant financial investments to remedy their alleged discrimination. In addition to monetary restitution, our redlining settlements also require lenders to adopt meaningful changes to their business practices to promote fair lending.
As just one example of what these resolutions look like in practice, in 2021, the Department obtained a settlement with Cadence Bank. One person who got a subsidy as a result of the settlement was a single mother of an 11-year-old daughter who previously lived in rental housing. With the help of the subsidy, the mother was able to purchase a home with a yard in a safe neighborhood that is walking distance from her daughter’s school.
But not only has her quality of life improved – but she is also paying less per month on her mortgage than she was paying on her rent.
I am proud of the work the Justice Department has done to combat redlining and secure relief for the communities it harms. And I am grateful to our partners across government for their assistance in these efforts.
I see the work that we have done over the past two years as just a beginning.
The Justice Department currently has over two dozen active investigations into redlining across the country.
Redlining is unlawful; it is harmful; and it is wrong.
Lending discrimination has no place in our country.
The Justice Department will continue to combat the redlining that harms families and neighborhoods for generations. And we will continue to pursue justice on their behalf.
I am now pleased turn over the podium over to the Assistant Attorney General for civil rights.