African-Americans and Hispanics in Jacksonville are about twice as likely to be denied traditional home mortgages as white borrowers in similar conditions, a nonprofit news organization’s analysis concluded.

The findings from Reveal, an organization at the California-based Center for Investigative Reporting, came from a review of 31 million mortgage records compiled nationally to meet requirements of the federal Home Mortgage Disclosure Act.

Reveal reported finding significant racial and ethnic differences in mortgage decisions at 61 out of more than 400 communities whose records were analyzed. The analysis was verified by The Associated Press. Reveal's analysis included all records publicly available under the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, covering nearly every time an American tried to buy a home with a conventional mortgage in 2015 and 2016. It controlled for nine economic and social factors, including an applicant's income, the amount of the loan, the ratio of the size of the loan to the applicant's income and the type of lender, as well as the racial makeup and median income of the neighborhood where the person wanted to buy property.

Jacksonville’s race gap was large but not unprecedented. Odds against blacks in Gainesville getting mortgages were about 4.5 times greater than for whites, compared to 2-to-1 odds locally.

Roadblocks to black ownership have loomed over parts of the city for years.

 “It is disappointing to understand the obstacles that are there,” said Paul Tutwiler, who runs the Northwest Jacksonville Community Development Corporation, a nonprofit focused on the largely black neighborhood near Myrtle Avenue north of downtown. “It’s very important to understand the role of ownership. ... It’s their community. They should take ownership of it.”

Tutwiler’s nonprofit has built about 90 homes since the early 2000s and is involved in several commercial developments. He said the business regularly reviews potential homebuyers’ credit reports and often refers people with bad records to counseling organizations that help build up their financial positions.

Tutwiler said some people return as much as two years later, finally ready to buy with a mortgage.

“The desire is there, but they don’t understand the barriers,” he said of many would-be buyers. People who aren’t prepared can be quickly considered and rejected by companies focused on finding safe borrowers, he said, and they might leave feeling they don’t have any chance.

The subject has been on City Hall’s radar, although fixes haven’t been forthcoming.

Jacksonville officials reported “certain differences in approval and denial rates among different racial and ethnic groups” in their latest version of a federally required fair housing report.

The report listed several problems to address, but didn’t mention access to mortgages as a problem to tackle.

The city needs to do more, said James Kowalski, executive director of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid.

“The city, which accepts federal funds … cannot meet its obligation under the law simply by stating that it is affirmatively furthering fair housing; it must actually take affirmative and concrete steps,” Kowalski told the city when the housing report was drafted in 2016.

African-American and Hispanic applicants only received loans 64 percent of the times they applied, while whites received them 73 percent of the time.

Despite making up 30 percent of the population in Jacksonville’s metro area, which crosses several counties, they filed just 12.5 percent of all loan applications.

A lot of black loan applications were concentrated in just a few neighborhoods. Ten percent of all the black mortgage applications came from just two of the more than 250 census tracts in Jacksonville’s metro area.

The biggest cluster came from the Westside, an area between Normandy Boulevard and 103rd Street centered near Herlong airport where blacks were actually approved for mortgages more regularly than whites. Despite the outsized number of black borrowers, the tract where those were recorded was mostly white, with black representing 34 percent of the neighborhood.

The tables were reversed in the Northside between New Kings and Lem Turner roads around Interstate 295.

The neighborhood is two-thirds black and 28 percent white, and blacks applied for a very sizable 105 mortgages over two years, but they were denied almost 26 percent of the time, while whites were rejected about 10 percent of the time. The thing they had in common was that large numbers of both blacks and whites were never approved or rejected, but ended up either dropping out or being frozen in a kind of borrower’s limbo where applications just keep being processed.

Reveal’s mortgage data pinpointed both success and struggle for black neighborhoods.

A black middle class appears to be growing off Interstate 95 around Jacksonville International Airport, for example. The neighborhood is 66 percent white and 28 percent black, which means its slightly whiter and slightly less black than the city as a whole, yet here, unlike elsewhere, black families appear to be doing better. African-Americans received 36 percent of all mortgages given, and 83 percent of their applications were approved.

In contrast, of neighborhoods that had at least 15 applications by black borrowers, Dinsmore had the lowest rate of approving loans to black families in Jacksonville. The neighborhood just north of Raines High School in Northwest Jacksonville gave loans to just three out of 16 black applicants. The neighborhood has a lower median income and a higher poverty rate than the city as a whole.

No other neighborhood in Northeast Florida gave fewer loans to African-Americans per capita.

Neighborhoods that are succeeding reflect a thread that’s seen elsewhere: Growth zones for blacks and whites don’t look the same, said Thomas Shapiro, director of the Institute on Assets and Social Policy at Brandeis University.

Shapiro, who studied Northwest Jacksonville in the 2000s as part of a long project aimed at spurring development, said communities nationally have continued to segregate as they spread out.

Banks were part of the inequality he remembered in Northwest Jacksonville, noting that several banks had few or no branches.

That’s been a sore point for Kowalski, whose legal aid office complained to the federal government about Chase Bank for only opening branches in predominantly white neighborhoods. That would effectively hurt non-white lenders by limiting their access to loans, the attorneys argued, but the government wasn’t persuaded. Chase was only doing the same thing as Bank of America and other lenders have done before them, Kowalski recalled a government official answering.

Chase gave just 2 percent of its loans to black borrowers, and only 3 percent of its loan applications came from African-Americans, according to Reveal’s research.

By contrast, Bank of America was near the top in equitable lending in Jacksonville. Among lenders who gave at least 40 loans in 2015 and 2016, the bank had the second biggest share of loans made to black borrowers. About 15 percent of the loans the bank gave in those two years went to black borrowers.The only lender that did better was the in-house mortgage company for homebuilder D.R. Horton.

A Bank of America spokesman said his company actively works with organizations that “support the multi-cultural market” in Jacksonville. Those include work with three nonprofits that offer financial counseling in black neighborhoods and the National Association of Real Estate Brokers and National Association of Women in Construction.

Having bank branches throughout the city also helps, he said, because branch employees have talks for first-time applicants about what lenders look for and how to be ready to apply.

Shapiro separately listed that type of training as something that can be important for novice borrowers, especially in neighborhoods where many people can’t turn to their families for help in down payments and often try to borrow a larger part of the home purchase price.

Perhaps the key differences between lenders like Chase and Bank of America are their relationships with the community, said Ira Goldstein, who prepared an extensive housing analysis of Jacksonville in 2015 as the policy solutions president of the Reinvestment Fund in Philadelphia.

“Do you affirmatively market in certain communities? How actively do you market your products?” he said. “Do you have relationships with neighborhood-based organizations [or] local real estate agents who sort of know who's active in different communities throughout a city? It could be that Chase doesn't have those relationships, but EverBank does and Wells Fargo does and whoever else does.

“Branches are important, but they're less important than they were in 1995.”

Kowalski said he would’ve expected credit unions to fare better. The fact Bank of America is more successful than credit unions, he said, is something that ought to be studied by the city and by policy centers.

He said he assumes “Bank of America has some people in those areas who are doing a really good job evaluating risk and offering decent products to folks regardless of their skin color.”

“I'd really like to see a deeper dive into the Bank of America success,” he said. “They would not be doing this, I think, if they had a higher default rate.”

Steve Patterson: (904) 359-4263

Andrew Pantazi: (904) 359-4310