Ever since I heard tell of it, I’ve been eagerly awaiting a study by three members of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago: “The Effects of the 1930s HOLC ‘Redlining’ Maps.”
It might sound like an arcane subject, but it’s gotten a surprising amount of attention in the popular press over the last few years (driven in large part by the attention of The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates), and something I’ve turned my attention to a few times. In short, in the 1930s, the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation attempted to figure out the creditworthiness of properties within wide swaths of American cities. Given the period, its metrics for creditworthiness were heavily based on the racial composition of neighborhoods—white flight meant that the presence of non-whites, particularly African Americans, brought the specter of housing-value collapse—and for a lot of reasons, these calculations were grounded in the work of Chicago economists and real estate professionals.
Not long ago, a team of academics digitized many of these maps. I spoke to one of the researchers involved, Virginia Tech’s LaDale Winling, who called them the “Rosetta stone” of American cities. It’s shocking how much of major cities were given D grades, the lowest possible credit-risk score, and outlined in red (hence, it’s believed, the origin of the term “redlining”). (Chicago Magazine)