2 Feb

Map of the Week: Redlining in the United States

By Emily Frisan

Redlining – the racially discriminatory and, now, illegal practice of devaluing homes in racially mixed neighborhoods with few or no white residents, has heavily impacted the homeownership of primarily minority residents. Neighborhoods with minority residents were classified as “hazardous” to investment. 

The term “redlining” finds its origins in the U.S. federal government’s National Housing Act of 1934, which was established during the New Deal era in the 1920s and 1930s. Government-insured mortgages were established for homeowners as a form of support for the economy and a way out of the Depression crisis, however, assistance was limited to prospective white buyers. 

Areas were separated into four distinctions, as shown in the National Geographic map above: Green or A (“Best”): U.S. born, upper- or middle-class neighborhoods, Blue or B (“Still Desirable”): Established, most or nearly all-white, U.S.-born neighborhood with a low chance of having an immigrant or person of color move in, Yellow or C (“Definitely Declining”): Neighborhoods bordering Black neighborhoods where European immigrants and working-class people lived, and Red or D (“Hazardous”): Neighborhoods where Black, Mexican, Asian, Jewish, or other groups lived, often also in industrial areas with older buildings and unmaintained infrastructure.

Discriminatory laws reinforced housing segregation in the United States, further drawing lines between white and Black neighborhoods that would persist for generations. Common barriers extended beyond political segregation leading to a lack of investment, or the development of highways, walls and fences, among other physical barriers that often blocked Black communities’ access to downtown areas and other centers of economic opportunity. Among reduced home ownership rates, house values, and rent spikes, areas classified as red or yellow in the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s, are often still underserved today, lacking basic services and linked to subsequent long-term disinvestment, wealth gaps, segregation, political fragmentation, lack of opportunity, and shortened life-expectancies. Recent studies have evidenced long-term consequences of redlining conditions confirms the critical role of geography in shaping Americans’ economic trajectories. 

Redlining became illegal after the passing of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which prohibited racial discrimination in the renting, selling, and financing of housing, and lifted many formal barriers to residential integration. Public, private, and non-profit sector leaders have the opportunity to implement strategies that give long-time residents protection, affordable housing, and preservation of existing housing stock to prevent displacement. However, forms of discrimination still exist in housing and lending markets today, as exclusionary zoning policies still discriminate by requiring large lot-size requirements and large square-footage-per-dwelling-unit mandates.

Explore the 143 cities and 7,148 neighborhoods in the United States of America that were redlined by the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation in the interactive map, ‘Redlining in the United States’ by National Geographic.