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Bank Locations, Credit Scores Fence Out Many Jacksonville Black And Latino Mortgage Applicants

Habijax volunteers help build a home in New Town
Jessica Palombo
Habijax volunteers help build a home in New Town

African-Americans and Latinos are twice as likely as whites to be denied traditional home loans in the Jacksonville area.

That’s the takeaway from a national investigation into unequal mortgage lending by Reveal and Center for Investigative Reporting.

Reporters combed through more than 30 million conventional home loans given out in 2015 and 2016 and they found a pattern of denials across the country. Jacksonville, they say, is one of 61 metro areas out of 409 with the largest disparities — that’s after controlling for a number of factors in order to compare applicants who are similar in every way except race.

Reveal accounted for nine different variables, including income, the size of a loan, gender, and the ratio between the amount of the loan and the applicant’s income. Emmanuel Martinez explained to First Coast Connect host Melissa Ross why they only looked at conventional loans and not those from the Federal Housing Administration.

“In the past, people have been forced into FHA lending when they otherwise qualified for conventional loans,” he said.

Brenda Ford, with the community development group the Vision Keepers, regularly drives around Jacksonville’s New Town neighborhood and nearby College Gardens, where she’s been a resident for decades.

“Now, College Gardens was a very affluent area back in the day — in the 40s and 50 and especially in the early 60s, where I come in — around middle school or high school,” she said as she turned up the air conditioner inside her Hyundai sedan.

The neighborhood, she boasted, was home to prominent teachers, a judge and even a Tuskegee Airman.

“We’re now developing a circle. The circle goes left and goes all the way back around. So, I’m going to go head in this direction because we have a judge — Judge Brian Davis — he grew up in this neighborhood and these homes down this very street,” she said.

But more recently the mostly black neighborhood just west of downtown has struggled with poverty. Ford said parts of town like this one are enduring a crippling lack of supermarkets, shops, daycare centers and banks.

African-Americans make up 30 percent of the Jacksonville metro area’s population, but they’re not represented proportionately among homeowners.  Even the lender that’s the most representative of the city’s population, of institutions that have given at least 40 loans — DHI Mortgage Company — gave just about 20 percent of its home loans to black families.

“Unfortunately I wasn’t surprised by what was reflected in the statistics,” Jacksonville Area Legal Aid Fair Housing Director Allison Albert said.

She said a big part of why banks receive such a small number of minority applicants, and approve so few of their applications, is location.

“If you are living in a community and you would like to purchase a house in your community, you’re going to go to your local bank and try and apply for a loan,” she said. “In a lot of these majority-minority communities, banks are not putting locations there.”

With more than 2,500 total applications, VyStar Credit Union is the second-largest conventional mortgage lender in the Jacksonville area. But just more than six percent of VyStar’s applications were from African-Americans, and just four percent of the credit union’s loans went to black borrowers.

“They’re not having a branch there with somebody you can come in and talk to. If you’re not offering services in a certain community, you can’t expect to get applications from that community,” Albert said.

But VyStar Chief Lending Officer Cathy Bonaventura said their approval rate has more to do with applicants’ credit scores and debt. She said her institution does its best to help rejected borrowers reach financial benchmarks for homeownership.

“We also have some options, if budgeting is the issue, with our money makeover programs to help them learn about budgeting and getting their finances in order and rebuilding their credit,” she said.

Back in New Town, Brenda Ford said these types of institutional services are still out of reach for most people not living near banks. That’s why, she said, the community is pulling together to create its own financial resources center. They’re training a staff of consultants.

“They’re training them how to interview people, how to find out what their needs are and to assist them in getting these loans because they know that the first thing they have to do is clean up their credit,” she said.

Ford said community initiatives like that one, in combination with organizations like HabiJax, which builds affordable homes and are mortgaged by the organization, are filling the void in her neighborhood and others like it.

This story was produced in partnership with Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. For more, go to revealnews.org/redlining .

Ryan Benk can be reached at rbenk@wjct.org , 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @RyanMichaelBenk.

Copyright 2020 WJCT News 89.9. To see more, visit WJCT News 89.9.

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Ryan Benk
Ryan Benk is originally from Miami, Florida and came to Tallahassee to attend Florida State University. He worked on Miami Dade College’s Arts and Literature Magazine- Miamibiance Magazine and has published poetry and a short film called “ The Writer.” He’s currently working as the Newsroom’s Researcher while finishing his Creative Writing Bachelor’s Degree at Florida State University. When he’s not tracking down news, Ryan likes watching films, writing fiction and poetry, and exploring Florida.
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