An example of neighborhood redlining in Houston, TX (Wikimedia Commons)
An example of neighborhood redlining in Houston, TX

Wikimedia Commons

“Risky individuals” and the longevity of discrimination: a brief history of redlining

A history of the overwhelming problem of redlining in America

April 25, 2023

Redlining is an illegal housing practice that originated in the 1930’s starting with the New Deal. During the 1930’s, the Federal Housing Administration, or the FHA, was set up to regulate mortgages and loans due to the Great Depression. The Home Owners Loan Corporation was also set up during the 1930’s to help borrowers struggling with foreclosure and help to readjust their mortgages. During this time, the HOLC developed a map on which they would delineate cities, and neighborhoods in those cities, based on risk. They would assess if people there were “risky” for mortgages. The HOLC would assign a rank to the cities (A for the best and D for the most hazardous) and these groups were largely based on poverty levels and race. The maps would go on to be used by real estate brokers and banks when selling houses and giving loans.

However,  the mapped areas in which “risky individuals” resided were often people of color, including African Americans, people of the Hispanic community and foreign-born peoples who were severely discriminated against at the time these practices were implemented.

“This was really institutional racism because a majority of those people were African Americans, and it did not allow African Americans to create generational wealth,” said Mrs. Carlson, a former Social Studies teacher here at RV (recently retired).  “These groups were barred from getting loans for their homes and it caused a disproportionate stunted growth happening in communities of color.”

The FHA discriminated against people of color and foreign born people due to a faulty reasoning at the time that property values would decline if they were to move into an all-white or mostly-white neighborhood, which is the opposite of what actually happened based on facts.

According to a 2017 National Public Radio report about redlining and its history, “…property values [in majority white neighborhoods] rose because African-Americans were more willing to pay more for properties than whites were, simply because their housing supply was so restricted and they had so many fewer choices.” 


Establishing the Racial Wealth Gap

The effects of the practice can be seen throughout not just one specific city, but many across the country.

“[In] any city that was really coming of age in the early 1900’s, you’re going to see [the impact of] redlining,” said Mr. Snyder, a U.S History II teacher here at RV. “And you’re still going to see the remnants of the discriminatory redlining policies play out today.”

Redlining can be attributed for contributing to the racial wealth gap between many people of color and foreign-born peoples and white Americans. It was harder to insure mortgages and obtain loans in D-rank areas, where many African Americans and other people of color or people who were immigrants resided. Many weren’t able to secure loans for housing in the suburbs which began to emerge in the 1940’s.  Since they weren’t allowed to buy housing in the suburbs, these marginalized people were unable to grow generational wealth like many white Americans.

This institutionalized discrimination persisted until the Fair Housing Act of 1968.  However, by that time the phenomenon known as “white flight” (the migration of white people to the affluent suburbs) had already taken hold and segregated Americans into those who could access social mobility, and those who could not.

Despite the Fair Housing Act of 1968 being in place, the suburbs were already developed after many white Americans had bought houses in the suburbs; suburban houses would be unaffordable for many families who were discriminated against in redlining practices. This has played a key role in the racial wealth gap that has developed in the present between people of color and White Americans.  The effect of this practice can be felt for generations, as the quality of healthcare and education are generally lower in D rank areas and hinder them from prospering like A and B rank areas. 


Impacts on health

Redlining’s effects on the racial wealth gap also have an effect on healthcare.

“Just like there is inequality in wealth in America,” Mr. Snyder said, “that trickles down into inequality in healthcare.” 

Formerly-redlined neighborhoods are affected in the present with problems with the accessibility of their healthcare. A study by George Washington University in Richmond and Greensboro, Virginia shows that past redlined neighborhoods have lower access to mental health services such as psychologists and therapists.

According to the study, “Greensboro’s redlined areas had no psychiatrists, while its well-rated  areas had five psychiatrists per 1,000 population.”

Redlined neighborhoods in these two areas were shown to have a disparity between non-redlined and redlined neighborhoods in terms of mental healthcare, displaying the lack of accessibility that has been shown in redlined areas. 

Not having access to routine health visits has led many residents of redlined areas to have continued health problems, as stated by the lead author Issam Motariek on the study by the American College of Cardiology, which examines the effects of redlining  on cardiometabolic conditions (like heart disease).

“We found neighborhoods with so-called better HOLC grades had higher cholesterol screening and routine health visits when compared to neighborhoods with worse HOLC grades,” the study states. “And the prevalence of adults 18 to 64 years old without health insurance nearly doubled from A through D-graded areas.”

The article detailing the study also noted the lower access to public transportation and healthy foods for people who live in redlined neighborhoods, which “increases [an individual’s] risk for missed prevention and adverse health outcomes.”

In addition to accessibility, there are a number of environmental factors which can negatively impact residents in redlined neighborhoods. In a study done by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC), researchers found that there is a correlation between redlining and lower life expectancy, higher risks for asthma, hypertension, and stroke and a higher “social vulnerability score.”

In a recent edition of the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters,  a study was done by researchers at UC Berkeley and University of Washington on redlining and air pollution. The study was then described in a 2022 article by NPR called “Even many decades later, redlined areas see higher levels of air pollution” by Laurel Wamsley, which illustrates how the study presents the imbalance of air pollution in historically redlined neighborhoods versus non-redlined neighborhoods. Individuals living in redlined neighborhoods live in areas of warmer temperatures and have many different health problems. Air pollution affects air quality, which in turn affects an individual’s health. 


Impacts on education 

In addition to adverse health and wealth effects, residents in redlined neighborhoods tend to struggle with access to quality education. The 2021 Annenberg Institute at Brown University’s examines the obstacles redlined neighborhoods face through their education systems.

“Schools and districts located today in historically redlined D neighborhoods have less district per-pupil total revenues, larger shares of Black and non-White student bodies, less diverse student populations, and worse average test scores relative to those located in A, B, and C neighborhoods,” the study noted.

Formerly-redlined neighborhoods could potentially have less access to resources because in many cases they have less district per-pupil total revenues, which affects the quality of education.

“Ultimately, schools represent the communities that they educate,” said Mr. Snyder. “When one community doesn’t have resources that another community has, that’s going to impact the quality of the schools…That’s going to impact the quality of education, the buildings that kids go to school in, the transportation system that gets kids to school, and technology that schools have access to.”


The longevity of the impact of redlined neighborhoods makes resolving this issue a massive undertaking. While there are a number of programs in place to support families in moving up or maintaining their economic status, the issue of redlining continues to be examined by many scholars as evidence of systemic racism and discrimination. In New Jersey alone, where “20 percent of New Jersey towns are at least 90 percent white,” race continues to be a factor in accessibility to the very things that make our country great.

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