Sun, 14 February 2021
The history of red-lining is one increasingly well-known within and beyond the academy. In the 1930s, as part of an attempt to shore up the struggling economy by underwriting home mortgages, the government’s Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC), developed a series of guidelines and criteria for assessing the risk of lending in urban areas. HOLC criteria drew heavily on the racial logics employed by lenders, developers, and real estate appraisers. Thus, “A-rated” neighborhoods, those associated with the least risk for banks and mortgage lenders, tended to be exclusively white. While, “D”-rated areas, deemed the most-risky, included large numbers of black and/or other non-white residents. These neighborhoods were color-coded red on HOLC maps, hence the term red-lining. They were often denied home loans.
HOLC and redlining had a dramatic effect on American cities with consequences lasting to the present day. Yet, the image of the HOLC’s color-coded maps suggests a more static relationship between lending and urban America than actually existed. In today’s episode, Rebecca Marchiel tells a more complex and nuanced story of white and black community activists who engaged with the federal government and banks in an effort to expose redlining—in its multiple forms—and imprint their own “financial common sense” on banking. In doing so, she undercuts notions that the reality depicted in HOLC’s maps was set in stone by the 1960s, when residents in Chicago’s West Side first became suspicious that they had become victims of red-lining, while at the same time revealing the alternative models of financing proposed by community activists in the urban reinvestment movement.