Today, 32% of people who are looking to purchase a new home are first-time buyers. Although buyers these days may face problems securing a loan, these challenges are nothing compared to what some potential buyers had to face during the late 1930s.
During that time, the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation was tasked with grading neighborhoods throughout the nation as part of the loan process. The grade that neighborhoods received would directly determine whether potential inhabitants of that area would be able to secure a loan. The practice of “redlining” unfortunately became commonplace during this time. Redlining refers to the refusal to provide a loan or insurance to an applicant because they intend to live in an area deemed to be a financial risk. This designation was usually tied to the racial or ethnic makeup of the given location.
Redlining is an entirely racist practice, as is evidenced by the notations surveyors gave to areas calculated to be “hazardous” or “definitely declining.” A new effort called “Mapping Inequality” has sought to digitally highlight these assessments. Until now, the documents and maps from the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation were not readily accessible. Rochester is one of more than 150 cities included on the website.
These maps showcase how the practice of redlining prevailed in communities throughout the United States. Specifically, they reveal how neighborhoods that had mostly black or immigrant residents were blocked from federal loan insurance. Some of Rochester’s most beloved and iconic neighborhoods, like Corn Hill and the South Wedge, received harsh criticism from the HOLC for a lack of pride in ownership and a presence of black inhabitants.
Despite a fairly favorable report, the official description pertaining to the Corn Hill neighborhood included the idea that “Negroes have come into the area and today it is the poorest section of the entire city.” Descriptions like these — and worse — are an example of systematic racism that kept minorities from affording privileges that many people take for granted.
At the time, Rochester had 325,000 residents, only 1% of which were black. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, restrictions on loans made it next to impossible for residents living in redlined areas to purchase a house and build equity. Discriminatory practices like these helped to keep black communities and those from foreign countries in a state of poverty.
Although the process of redlining is no longer used, there is evidence to support the claim that racism still comes into play when applying for home loans. A 2015 study by the Empire Justice Center found that black people across every income bracket were more likely to be denied a loan than white people. The Mapping Inequality effort highlights governmental racism in our history, but the overall convention is far from being a thing of the past.