The Stains of Redlining in the U.S.: Why We Need Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity 


July 7, 2023

Editor’s note: Chris Watson, who grew up in Chicago, is a CHN Intern and rising junior at Cornell University. He is majoring in Government and Africana Studies.

Redlining and other discriminatory housing practices resulted in economic imbalances between neighboring communities in many parts of the U.S. One prime example of this is the current economic imbalances between the South/West and the North sides of Chicago. The concentration of race within these neighborhoods also stems from these unjust practices. The North Side is predominantly White, with the South and West sides traditionally comprised of Black and Hispanic families. The discriminatory housing practices and confined demographics have manifested a clear tale of two cities; one city that is flourishing with economic prosperity and the other that has been crippled by systemic injustice.  

In the 1920s and 1930s, the government implemented homeownership programs in response to the Great Depression and approved mortgage loans. These programs, led by the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC), utilized residential security maps to determine which neighborhoods qualified for loans. These maps were given four colors: Green-best, Blue-still desirable, Yellow-definitely declining, and Red-hazardous. The worse ratings were typically given to predominantly Black and Brown neighborhoods.  

These practices have created multiple scarcities of resources, with one of the biggest being wealth. According to the Urban Institute, the median net worth for North Side neighborhoods like Lakeview Lincoln Park is $132,258, in contrast to the South Side areas South Shore, Hyde Park, Woodlawn, Grand Boulevard, and Douglas, which have a median net worth of $4,439. When realtors flag minority neighborhoods as undesirable, properties owned by people of color become less attractive to investors. In return, decreases in investment results in fewer job opportunities and the minimal development of those communities. 

Exclusion from job access and development ensues due to the condemnation of these neighborhoods. Bloomberg reports that the unemployment rate in the predominantly Black community of Englewood is “23.5% compared with 2% in the wealthier, predominantly White neighborhood of Lakeview,” thus leading to overall less wealth in these communities than in the White neighborhoods. The warning labels attached to Black and Brown communities still hold lasting effects today — a divide in resources and the quality of life due to homeownership.  

The issue of underfunding and the negative effects of redlining are not unique to Chicago. Cities such as Boston, New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and others across the U.S experienced redlining. Consequently, a similar trend of funding disparities can be found in those cities as exists in Chicago. Unfair housing practices should be viewed as a national issue and addressed accordingly.  

Two hours away from the steps of the U.S. Capitol, Richmond, Virginia still suffers from the effects of redlining. The East End neighborhood of Richmond, which is predominantly Black, experiences a poverty rate of 60%, compared to the country’s official poverty rate of 11.6%.  

Houses are one of the biggest ways to build wealth in America, and past unequal housing practices such as redlining have impeded the accumulation of Black wealth through homeownership. At the federal level, there needs to be increased funding for fair housing and equal opportunities to mitigate the unjust housing practices that have created the current wealth gap in America. Although the demonstrated need for housing opportunities is pressing, the Coalition on Human Needs cites that Congress has cut Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity by 14.8 percent from FY 2010 to FY 2023, when adjusted for inflation. This U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development program is one of many human needs programs focusing on housing needs funded through federal discretionary spending. Fair housing programs are in danger for the upcoming 2024 fiscal year and must see increased funding rather than more cuts. 

The mission statement of the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) is to “Eliminate housing discrimination, promote economic opportunity, and achieve diverse, inclusive communities.” The FHEO’s commitment to promoting economic opportunity and inclusive communities helps mitigate economic imbalances from the lingering effects of redlining. Fair housing programs such as the FHEO can help desegregate cities around the U.S. and help bring economic power to vulnerable populations. The discriminatory outlining of these neighborhoods is etched into the fabric of America. It is Congress’s job to correct the wealth and job disparities that are derived from redlining, and the FHEO can help work towards viable solutions. 

housing discrimination