Atlanta-based Ameris Bank has agreed to provide millions of dollars to help people buy or maintain homes in areas of Jacksonville that are majority Black or Hispanic.
A judge this week signed off on the $9 million agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice over allegations the bank discriminated against those minority populations when it came to mortgage lending, which the bank denies.
Their Jacksonville location on the Southbank is a pretty good example. The bank has a big tower there and an ATM. Just about all of their local branches are south of downtown in majority-white areas. Meanwhile, their one branch in downtown Jacksonville was closed in 2019. The DOJ said that denied people who live in the majority-minority areas north of the river equal access to credit.
Ameris Bank is denying wrongdoing but had agreed to spend millions to support homeownership for Duval County residents specifically where the population is mostly Black and Hispanic.
The bank has agreed to invest at least $7.5 million in home loans in the areas for mortgages, home improvements and refinancing. This comes amid allegations they served predominately white areas of Northeast Florida while closing branches in areas where the minority population was higher.
People News4JAX talked to downtown on Thursday said they aren’t familiar with Ameris Bank.
Jacksonville resident Keithphnine Gerald was one of those people but said he believes the allegations.
“That’s the way America is,” Gerald said.
According to the National Association of Realtors, about 73% of white households own homes, compared to about 51% of Hispanic Americans and 44% of Black households.
Lending discrimination is known as “redlining.” DOJ said it was institutionalized by the federal government during the New Deal era and was implemented by private lenders then and now, continuing to deprive communities of color of the principal means of building wealth: homeownership.
“They’re billionaires, the banks, and they got way more money to invest in the Black community,” Gerald said.
The money from Ameris can be used for several things, including direct grants for down payments and closing costs. The maximum people can get per loan is $20,000.
To Gerald, the scope is too small.
Ameris strongly disagrees with any allegations of discrimination.
“We cooperated fully with the Department’s inquiry and have entered into this settlement to avoid the distraction of litigation and because we share the Department’s goal of expanding access to homeownership in underserved areas,” said Ameris CEO Palmer Proctor.
Under the agreement, Ameris is also committing another $1.5 million toward other efforts like advertising and outreach to expand lending in those minority areas.