Slacker’s Syllabus: Redlining

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Ever wondered why some neighborhoods look the way they do?

Let’s talk about “redlining.”

Today, "redlining" is a catchall term for racial housing segregation, but its origins date back to discriminatory government mortgage lending policies from nearly a century ago.

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In 1933, the government sponsored the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) to help refinance mortgages and expand home buying opportunities during the Great Depression.

Sounds good, right? Well ...

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The HOLC used neighborhoods’ racial and ethnic makeup as one of its factors for determining where to help finance homes. The more people of color, immigrants, and other marginalized peoples in an area, the lower its overall score.

On the HOLC’s maps, the lowest-ranked neighborhoods were literally outlined in red.

See? “Redlining.”

Anyone who was not northern-European white was considered to be a detraction from the value of the area.

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Over time, the inability for certain neighborhoods — particularly those populated mostly by people of color — to secure housing loans meant entire communities were effectively blocked from home-ownership, one of the key factors in building generational wealth.

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Fast forward to 1968.

The Fair Housing Act effectively ended the practice of redlining, making it illegal for sellers and landlords to discriminate based on race, among other factors.

The damage, however, had already been done.

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It’s as if some of these places have been trapped in the past, locking neighborhoods into concentrated poverty.

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The effects of redlining can still be felt today.

Decades of stunted economic opportunities in formerly redlined areas ossified a host of poverty-related ills in 2021, including chronic health issues, increased risk of certain disease like COVID-19, poorer air quality, and even urban heat bubbles. Since redlining largely fell across racial lines, communities of color often bear the brunt of those issues today.

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See how redlining has affected your city.

The National Community Reinvestment Coalition, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and the University of Richmond have created a series of interactive maps to show how redlining corresponds with poverty-associated health issues in 140 communities today.

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