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When did you first learn about redlining?

Dumb Ideas that Changed the World, Episode 10 S

Tease: When did you first learn about redlining?


Intro: Welcome to “Dumb Ideas that Changed the World.” The views expressed are solely those of the host and do not reflect the opinions of this station or its funders.


You may have heard of “redlining” in reference to housing discrimination. Good for you. Unbelievably, I only learned about it last year. To make amends, let’s expose this dumb idea and its awful effects.

Redlining began with the federal Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, created to ensure mortgages during the Great Depression. They issued red-line maps to warn banks about risky neighborhoods where people were less likely to repay their loans. Sounds good, right? Reward good behavior and more people can own their own homes. But redlining soon devolved into racism. Black-majority neighborhoods, created out of forced segregation, were targeted as sub-optimal even when they were among the nicest in the borough. With no mortgage, it took decades of savings to purchase a home.


One might assume redlining was primarily a Southern problem, but not so. Syracuse, New York became one of the most segregated cities in the nation. And a housing map of New York City, according to author Richard So, had “Harlem drenched in red.” This thriving community and many others now faced an uphill struggle not of their own making.


Geographer Michael Kelly frames housing segregation as a “multi-century project” of racializing private property. Add restrictive covenants and it was nearly impossible for African Americans to secure a home loan across the country. Economists confirm that home-ownership is a ticket to the middle class and promotes generational wealth. That housing discrimination was federal policy is shameful and dumb.


We can blame the federal government for redlining, but it also led reform. In 1948 the Supreme Court outlawed racial covenants, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968 banned housing discrimination. Historically, though, these are fairly new developments. African-American home ownership remains under fifty percent, while 75 percent of white families own their homes.


Hopefully, some of you are younger than I was when you first learned about redlining.


I’m Jeff Gentry


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Best reference: Kelly, M. T. (2022). Land Speculation and Suburban Covenants: Racial Capitalism and the Pre-Redlining Roots of Housing Segregation in Syracuse, New York. Antipode, 54(5), 1629. https://doi.org/10.1111/anti.12845


Dumb Ideas that Changed the World copyright 2023 by Jeff Gentry. All rights reserved.

Host of Dumb Ideas the Changed the World
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