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World News

Justice Department Secures $107 Million Relief for Communities of Color Nationwide

The Justice Department's Combating Redlining Initiative has achieved significant progress by securing more than $107 million in relief for communities of color nationwide affected by lending discrimination. This initiative aims to address the unlawful practice of redlining, where lenders withhold credit services from individuals residing in or seeking to reside in communities of color based on their race, color, or national origin.

As part of this relief effort, the Justice Department has reached a $9 million agreement with Ameris Bank to address allegations of redlining predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in Jacksonville, Florida.

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland emphasized the continued relevance of redlining and the importance of combating it, stating, "As today’s case makes clear, redlining is not just a relic of the past." He also noted that the Justice Department is actively investigating over two dozen cases of redlining across the country.

The Combating Redlining Initiative, which was launched in October 2021, has brought together various law enforcement agencies to enforce federal fair lending laws, including the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. Since its inception, the initiative has secured settlements with 10 banks and mortgage lending institutions, providing millions of dollars to affected communities and expanding homeownership opportunities for marginalized families.

The resolution with Ameris Bank, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, is currently pending court approval. The Department's complaint alleges that Ameris Bank, from 2016 to 2021, avoided providing mortgage services to majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in Jacksonville, discouraging residents from obtaining home loans. The bank's mortgage lending activities were primarily concentrated in white neighborhoods, resulting in a stark disparity in lending between different communities.

The proposed consent order outlines specific actions Ameris Bank will take to increase credit opportunities for communities of color in Jacksonville. These actions include:

  1. Investing $7.5 million in a loan subsidy fund for residents of majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhoods and those seeking credit in these areas.
  2. Allocating $900,000 for advertising and outreach targeted toward residents of these neighborhoods.
  3. Investing $600,000 to develop community partnerships aimed at increasing access to residential mortgage credit.
  4. Opening a new branch in a majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhood in Jacksonville.
  5. Ensuring that at least three mortgage loan officers are dedicated to serving majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhoods.
  6. Retaining a consultant to assess the bank's compliance management system regarding redlining risk.
  7. Employing a full-time Director of Community Lending to oversee lending development in majority-Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in Jacksonville.

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division emphasized the importance of combating modern-day redlining to ensure equal economic opportunities for all. U.S. Attorney Roger B. Handberg for the Middle District of Florida noted that the settlement represents a significant step forward for Black and Hispanic communities in Jacksonville, marking the first redlining case brought by the Department of Justice in Florida. It reflects a commitment to guaranteeing equal access to housing and credit resources for all Americans.

Ameris Bank has also committed to expanding its lending services in underserved communities across its markets.

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