Image: Mapping Inequality

The above 1939 Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) map of Los Angeles is one of the most widely circulated examples of the racist housing policy known as “redlining.”

Although it was banned in the 1960s, the practice of color-coding neighborhoods based on their perceived levels of “mortgage security” has created lasting socioeconomic impacts in cities across the United States, particularly among Black communities.

The green areas that you see on the map (Beverly Hills, Palos Verdes) were deemed “Type A” neighborhoods, meaning they were most favorable to investment. Blue or “B” neighborhoods (Wilshire Park, Mount Washington) were considered “still desirable.”

Much of the map is painted yellow, representing “Type C” neighborhoods (Palms, Lennox) that were “definitely declining.” The “Type D” neighborhoods (Leimert Park, Inglewood) were “hazardous” and marked in red; it was nearly impossible for residents in these communities to secure a federally-backed mortgage loan or even a home improvement loan to update their properties. This created a cycle of disinvestment that limited development and individual wealth.

A new study from Redfin highlights the glaring inequalities that still persist in the Los Angeles housing market, comparing homeownership rates and equity gains in formerly “Type A” and “Type D” neighborhoods over the past 40 years. 

The average homeowner in a redlined neighborhood has earned 89 percent less equity, or $524,000, than their counterpart in a greenlined neighborhood since 1980. Broken down further, we see that the median home value in 2019 for a “hazardous” area stood at $587,000, compared to $1,111,000 in a community with a “best” rating.

Homeownership, which is often regarded as one of the most effective means of building generational wealth, is declining among Black Angelenos. A Zillow study from earlier this year pegged the LA homeownership rate for Black households at 31.7 percent — that’s 1.9 percent lower than the mid-decade average (2014-2016) of 33.6 percent. Additionally, the divide between Black and non-Black homeownership rates is -17.9 percent.

“The expanding homeownership gap between Black and white families can in part be traced back to diminished home equity due to redlining, as it’s one major reason why Black families today have less money than white families to purchase homes either as first-time or move-up homebuyers,” said Redfin chief economist Daryl Fairweather.

“It’s important to note that other factors play a role in lower homeownership rates for Black families, too. For instance, employment discrimination has prevented Black workers from earning equitable income.”

Some of the formerly redlined neighborhoods in Los Angeles have also been subject to gentrification. West Adams, for example, was once a majority Black neighborhood that has seen home values increase by more than 56 percent in the past five years. 

While this would be welcome news in a predominantly homeowning community, “Type D” zones have significantly lower rates of homeownership — citywide, it’s 30.1 percent for Black families in so-called “hazardous” areas. As investors and non-Black homebuyers move in, Black renter households are steadily displaced.

“Relatively low homeownership rates for Black families means landlords are the ones reaping the benefits of increasing home equity in formerly redlined neighborhoods,” explained Fairweather.

“Black families are mostly renters in those neighborhoods, which means rising home values leads to increased rent payments and possibly being pushed to less desirable, albeit more affordable, parts of town.”

You can see how your own neighborhood has been impacted by redlining by exploring Mapping Inequality: Redlining in New Deal America from the University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab.

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