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— Alena Thompson didn't need the mayor or a Washington think tank to tell her about the difficulty of getting a home loan in the city.

She has been living it the past four years.

The 34-year-old nurse said she has been stymied at every turn in her quest to buy a house in Detroit.

"Tell me about it," she said. "My neighbor can, so why can't I? What's the problem?"

The problem, said the Urban Institute in Washington, is that home lending to black residents in the city has fallen off a cliff.

The number of new mortgages in Detroit since 2006 is negligible, according to a study by the organization.

And the picture isn't much prettier for African-Americans in Metro Detroit, said the think tank.

The number of mortgages given to black borrowers in the region dropped 79 percent from 2006 to 2012, according to the analysis.

The number given to white residents during the period dropped 11 percent.

"Recent investments from the private sector suggest a comeback could be underway, but the mortgage market in the inner city shows no sign of recovery yet," wrote researchers.

On Thursday Mayor Mike Duggan lamented his populace's inability to get a mortgage.

Talking to a roomful of corporate leaders with ties to the city, he asked for their help in solving one of the city's most pressing issues.

"The biggest single problem to restoring blight is we can't get mortgages," Duggan said at the College for Creative Studies.

In 2012, only 550 mortgages were written in the city of 714,000 people, he said.

A mayoral program to sell abandoned homes through the Detroit Land Bank has been hampered by the difficulty in getting mortgages, said Duggan.

Since the program began in May, 162 homes have been claimed at auctions but only 45 have been sold because of would-be buyers' inability to get loans.

The audience of 150, part of a three-day Detroit Homecoming event, didn't offer any immediate solutions to the mayor.

Fair housing advocates said they were disappointed by the Urban Institute findings, but they weren't surprised.

An executive with the Fair Housing Center of Metropolitan Detroit said there could be several reasons for the plummeting number of mortgages.

"Lending is a complex subject," said Margaret Brown, the center's executive director. "It's usually not just one thing. There are many variables."

With incomes dropping, Detroiters may be less inclined to apply for a loan or, if they already have a mortgage, may be unable to keep up payments, she said.

The inability to get a mortgage leaves residents without a chance to build their wealth through homeownership, said Brown.

But that's not new either, she said.

"Blacks have always had less net worth anyway," she said.

As for the rest of the country, African-Americans aren't the only ones affected disproportionately by tighter credit, according to the study by the Urban Institute.

Nationally, the share of loans made to African-Americans and Hispanics from 2005 to 2012 fell from 23 percent to 12 percent.

The two groups also were hurt by another factor.

They were able to more easily secure loans as housing prices reached their peak, which is the worst time to get a mortgage, said the institute.

When the market softened and good deals were available on homes, African-Americans and Hispanics weren't able to receive the financing to take advantage of them.

fdonnelly@detroitnews.com

(313) 223-4186

Staff Writer Louis Aguilar contributed.

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