By Pierce Holloway
Between 1935 and 1940, more than 200 cities in the United States were given Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) “residential security” maps, which are more commonly known as “redlining” maps.
Redlining was the practice of designating neighborhoods in each city by one of four grades, which reflected the “mortgage security” of local borrowers. Neighborhoods receiving “A” were colored green on the maps and defined as the best or being of minimal risk for banks. “B” areas colored blue were still desirable, “C” as yellow were considered declining, and “D” colored red were deemed hazardous. These classifications were determined by data that included local housing quality, sale history, but most significantly, by racial and ethnic data. Because of this criteria, areas graded “C” or “D” often exhibited higher than average minority populations. Areas that graded below an “A” were frequently denied access to loans or mortgages, which prevented home purchase, investment, or improvement. If today’s city officials are to tackle the racial and class inequality that exists, it is paramount that they understand the long term effects of these maps. The following post will focus on a case study in Miami to illustrate the property value impacts of 1930s redlining.
Miami, similar to many metropolitan cities in the United States, received a redlining map in 1937. To better understand how Miami was impacted by redlining, I downloaded the historically redlined areas as polygons from the Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond through the Mapping Inequality website. I then overlaid these polygons on the 2020 parcel data of Miami. Next, I found the overlapping areas, carried over the relevant attributes, and made a visualization of the ghost of the redlining past (see Figure 1).
I then used R statistical software to determine if being redlined has had an effect on a parcel’s value per acre (VPA). For this study, parcels graded “A” or ”B” are referred to as non-redlined and “C” or “D” as redlined. I found that homes and other properties which were redlined have statistically significant (p < .001) lower VPAs compared to non-redlined homes. In fact, homes that were redlined have VPAs that are nearly $345,300 less than non-redlined parcels. This amount increases to a difference of $546,500 when controlling for a parcel’s distance to the central business district and the year it was built. For a more in-depth breakdown of property VPA by redline grade, see Figure 2 below. This means that a policy created and implemented in 1937 still has a significant impact on property owners 83 years later. To be clear, I am not claiming that redlining is 100% responsible for disinvestment in these neighborhoods. I am just calling attention to how past racist federal programs are continuing to impact communities to this day.
There are four general takeaways that I would like readers to think about after seeing how redlined neighborhoods in Miami exhibit lower VPAs.
1. Property ownership and generational wealth transfer are two of the top ways to gain wealth in this country. By living in a neighborhood that was redlined, these children may inherit a less valuable home than families in non-redlined neighborhoods. This inability to pass down a home of increased value may be a product of 1930s era redlining and can further wealth disparities across this country.
2. Just this year, Scientific America named Miami as the “most vulnerable” coastal city in the world as it faces increases in flood severity and frequency across the city (Cusick 2020). With an increase in flooding, we can also expect an increase in more individuals relying on flood insurance and FEMA payouts to repair or rebuild their homes post disaster. Both of these aid sources base their funds distribution on a property’s current value. Hence, if you are living in a formerly redlined neighborhood, you are predisposed to lower payouts and homes may remain in greater disrepair than in non-redlined neighborhoods.
3. Having a lower property value places you at a higher risk of neighborhood gentrification. If a developer notices that your community can be bought out at a much lower price than surrounding areas, it’s possible that you may be displaced before others.
4. Ignoring the racial history of redlining and its continued effects is doing a disservice to the residents of these communities. Moreover, it stands to perpetuate racial wealth disparities and continued disinvestment in communities, which have been systematically disenfranchised.
As the research on the enduring impact of redlining continues, it is imperative that the findings are considered by a wide audience. Academics, private consultants, city officials, and community organizers should all be aware of the impacts that redlining has had on communities. This is reinforced by the fact that those currently affected by redlining were not even alive when the practice took place. Looking forward, I am hopeful that an increased understanding of redlining can bolster efforts to dismantle wealth inequality in this country. Lastly, redlining research is not the silver bullet for wealth inequality. To dismantle the systems that perpetuate inequality across our society, research, organization, and reparations of all forms must be sought.
Cusick, Daniel. 2020. “Miami Is the Most Vulnerable Coastal City Worldwide.” Scientific American. February 4, 2020. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/miami-is-the-most-vulnerable-coastal-city-worldwide/.
Mapping Inequality – Website hosting detailed interactive maps of all rdlined cities in United States
The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America – Tremendous book exploring the history of and implications of Redlining
Featured image courtesy of Mapping Inequality
Pierce Holloway is a first-year master’s student at the Department of City and Regional Planning with a focus on Climate Change Adaptation. Before coming to Chapel Hill he worked as a geospatial analyst for Urban3, working on visualizing economic productivity of communities and states. Through his coursework he hopes to explore the nexus between adaptation for climate change and community equitability. In his free time, he enjoys long bike rides, trail running, and any excuse to play outside.