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Redlining’s Legacy


Redlining, the mid-twentieth century federal effort to determine home loan viability based upon the racial makeup of neighborhoods, both reflected long standing white supremacy and created new structures of white supremacy that still have a tremendous impact on black communities today.

Racial discrimination in mortgage lending in the 1930s shaped the demographic and wealth patterns of American communities today, a new study shows, with 3 out of 4 neighborhoods “redlined” on government maps 80 years ago continuing to struggle economically.

The study by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, released Wednesday, shows that the vast majority of neighborhoods marked “hazardous” in red ink on maps drawn by the federal Home Owners’ Loan Corp. from 1935 to 1939 are today much more likely than other areas to comprise lower-income, minority residents.

“It’s as if some of these places have been trapped in the past, locking neighborhoods into concentrated poverty,” said Jason Richardson, director of research at the NCRC, a consumer advocacy group.

Researchers compared the HOLC maps, the most comprehensive documentation of discriminatory lending practices, with modern-day census data to determine how much neighborhood demographics have changed in 80 years. The findings have implications for today’s political debates over housing, banking and financial regulation, as well as civil rights, as Congress seeks to weaken the government’s ability to enforce fair-lending requirements. Policies that influence access to capital and credit have long-lasting effects on residential patterns, neighborhoods’ economic health and household accumulation of wealth, the report said.

The Federal Housing Administration institutionalized the system of discriminatory lending in government-backed mortgages, reflecting local race-based criteria in their underwriting practices and reinforcing residential segregation in American cities. The discriminatory practices captured by the HOLC maps continued until 1968, when the Fair Housing Act banned racial discrimination in housing.

But 50 years after that law passed, the lingering effects of redlining are clear, with the pattern of economic and racial residential segregation still evident in many U.S. cities — from Montgomery, Ala., to Flint, Mich., to Denver.

Whenever you run into a conservative who says “my family immigrated to the U.S. in 1900, I don’t have any responsibility for racism” or some such thing, discussing redlining is a good response. You have to do it simply. You can say, “Was your family unable to get a home loan because they were white?” And go from there.

I’ll also observe that children in these neighborhoods also are underprivileged in their education and that when whites move to the suburbs for the schools, they are engaging in the same behavior that allowed programs like redlining to be popular in white communities, but then even suggesting that would demonstrate that I have no legitimacy to mention this because I don’t have kids or something.

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