Tuesday, December 15, 2020

The Legacy of Redlining

Covid-19 has brought into stark relief the often shocking disparities in health provision in most American cities. Black Americans have been disproportionately infected by Covid-19 and have disproportionately died as a result of catching the virus. A new website from the University of Richmond's Digital Scholarship Lab suggests that this is at least partly due to the historical inequality of American cities. The website suggests that the health disparities we see today can be traced back to the racial residential segregation long established in the United States.

During President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal black homeowners were discriminated against through the creation of redlining maps. These maps identified areas with significant black populations and labeled them as too high risk for mortgage support. Black homeowners living in these areas were very unlikely to be successful when trying to refinance home mortgages from the government sponsored Home Owners' Loan Corporation - because their neighborhoods were deemed to be too 'hazardous'.

The legacy of the Home Owners' Loan Corporation (HOLC) redlining maps can still be seen in cities today. Not Even Past: Social Vulnerability and the Legacy of Redlining allows you to directly compare redlining maps with modern maps which visualize the health disparities in U.S. cities today. Select a city on the Not Even Past website and you can view its HOLC redlining map placed side-by-side with a map which shows the CDC's current Social Vulnerability Index scores for the city's neighborhoods. This allows you to make a direct comparison between the two maps and see if the health disparities in your city today are a partial legacy of historical redlining maps. 

Between the two maps you can also view a chart connecting the cities HOLC redlining grades with today's SVI scores. Horizontal lines between the two grades/scores indicate that little has changed and that areas of privilege and /or disadvantage have not changed over time. Lines that drop from left to right (the past to today) suggest a decline in the relative privilege of neighborhoods. Lines that rise from left to right, suggest economic improvement in neighborhoods (possibly as a result of gentrification).

Wenfei Xu has also released an interactive mapping tool which allows you to compare historical redlining maps side-by-side with modern demographic data. The Redlining Map tool allows you to explore for yourself if the HOLC redlining maps have had a lasting impact on segregation in your city. Using the modern census data you can view the neighborhoods with a high percentage of black, white or Hispanic people and see if these areas correlate with areas which were deemed at risk or safe for lending purposes in the 1930's.

On the original Home Owners' Loan Corporation redlining maps the areas marked in blue were the neighborhoods deemed desirable for lending purposes. The yellow areas show the neighborhoods which were deemed 'declining' areas. The red areas were the neighborhoods considered the most risky for mortgage support. You can use Wenfei Xu's Redlining Map to see if the areas marked red in the 1930's redlining maps are areas which still have predominately black populations. You can also see if the blue or 'First Grade' areas are areas which still have a significantly large white population.

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