What Is Redlining? How Residential Segregation Shaped U.S. Cities

Originally published on Teen Vogue.

The years that followed the Great Depression were vital in creating an expanded middle class, and the federal government ensured that this class mobility was readily available to white Americans and out of reach for most Black Americans. Homeownership is a key method of building wealth, as Lisa Rice, executive vice president of the National Fair Housing Alliance, told the Associated Press. The largest share of wealth for typical families comes from home equity, yet Black families haven’t had the opportunity to build and pass down generational wealth the way many white families have. According to the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, 74% of neighborhoods that were redlined by the HOLC are low-to-moderate income today, and 64% of those redlined communities are minority neighborhoods.

The racial wealth gap isn’t the only repercussion of redlining. “A few years ago I bought a home in Maywood, Illinois, which is a predominantly Black suburb of Chicago,“ Gianna Baker, co-executive director of the Chicago Area Fair Housing Alliance, told Teen Vogue. “Part of the legacy of redlining [that] majority-black neighborhoods like Maywood often face is that we don’t have equal access to essential resources. For instance, there isn’t a grocery store in my community.” According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), approximately 19 million Americans live in “food deserts” that lack adequate access to fresh foods and grocery stores. A disproportionate amount of these households are Black and Latino.

Lack of access to healthy food options paired with other environmental factors — these communities have higher temperatures and higher exposure to polluting industries — leads to more health disparities. People living in redlined communities have higher rates of obesity, diabetes, asthma, hypertension, and kidney disease.

“Housing is truly a lifeline and the centerpiece of all other life opportunities, from jobs and educational opportunities to healthy food and health-care options. We’re seeing this connection highlighted more and more as the pandemic persists,” said Baker. “Public health professionals have equated housing to a vaccine. I think Dr. Megan Sandel coined that term: Housing as a vaccine points to the many ways that safe, healthy, and stable housing protects families, especially children, from a whole host of physical and emotional ills.”