New Redlining Maps Show Chicago Housing Discrimination | WBEZ
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New Redlining Maps Show Chicago Housing Discrimination

An online archive released this week highlights how rampant discrimination in Chicago home loans in the 1930s are“still being felt today.”

Researchers from Virginia Tech, Johns Hopkins University, University of Maryland and University of Richmond mapped redlining -- the practice of refusing home loans based on race -- in 225 cities across the country.

The result, “Mapping Inequity: Redlining in New Deal America,” is a digital collection of maps and descriptions the federal Home Owners’ Loan Corporation produced between 1935 and 1940.

HOLC spent $3 billion rescuing defaulted mortgages after the Great Depression, but has since been criticized for institutional racism through redlining, which affected African-American neighborhoods.

The new website reveals HOLC’s color-coded maps that assigned values to neighborhoods. Green areas were the “best” investments, blue areas were “still desirable,” yellow areas were “definitely declining” and red areas were “hazardous.”

The maps show black neighborhoods drenched in red.

The maps show that when a neighborhood was no longer white in the 1930s it was seen as risky. As a result, blacks were left out of federal housing programs.

The federal government sanctioned disinvestment in black neighborhoods and urban centers, which rippled through the public and private sectors, according to the maps. Additionally, development was encouraged in the suburbs.

Redlining is one of the myriad ways blacks experienced discrimination in the housing market. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Great Migration in Chicago, where hundreds of thousands of African Americans left the South for better opportunities. When they arrived, they were confined to the Black Belt on the South Side. Even as overcrowded conditions cramped black families, a host of real estate policies prevented them from moving to white areas. 

LaDale Winling, a professor at Virginia Tech University and one the map archive researchers, said HOLC nationalized the idea of protecting white homeowners and creating dual racialized housing markets.

“While there had been clear segregation in the Black Belt, what (HOLC) did was institutionalize that idea about privileging the white housing market, white home value,” Winling said.

Local real estate agents and developers wrote the text for the color-coded maps. Here are some examples on the South Side:

“This is an area known as Washington Park sub-division in Woodlawn. This is a semi-blighted area and while it is restricted to Whites, and the restriction having nine or ten years yet to run, there is a constantly increasing encroachment of Negroes from both the west and south...It is expected ultimately that this entire area will revert to the Colored race.”

“Located west of Halsted to Ashland, between Garfield and 63rd, many foreigners, Irish and Italian predominant. Substantial negro development exists between Aberdeen & Loomis, 60th to 63rd, even tho restricted. A Property Owners' Organization is endeavoring to hold that portion between 59th and 64th, Green to Carpenter, against colored infiltration.” 

Chicago is also important in how redlining spread across the country. A number of university scholars in sociology and economics helped shape housing policy. Homer Hoyt studied economics in the 1930s at the University of Chicago. The real-estate specialist went on to be principal housing economist for the Federal Housing Authority.

Winling said revisiting the maps is important not just for policymakers but for the public. 

“Understanding the long history of discrimination by housing officials is essential to promoting equitable public policy and equitable public practice today,” he said.

But more fundamental, Winling said, is understanding that so-called “good” and “bad” neighborhoods exist because of “a wide array of public and private investment influences that shape the quality of neighborhoods. We can’t blame local inhabitants of impoverished neighborhood.”

He said that means understanding that desirable neighborhoods are also influenced by the ability to more easily receive capital. If the federal government said yah or nay to a neighborhood, that influenced subsequent capital or lack thereof.

“Neighborhood quality and neighborhood conditions is structural not just personal or individual,” Winling said.

Natalie Moore is WBEZ's South Side Bureau reporter. You can follow her at @natalieymoore

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