Showing Redlining’s Impact in the Bronx

Home Owners’ Loan Corp., used what many historians believe were racist guidelines when appraising areas, a practice known as “redlining.” (Photo by Aaron Mayorga via The Riverdale Press)

A new interactive exhibit tracing the history and impact of “redlining” – the practice of denying loans and mortgages to low-income and minority populations, thereby reinforcing segregation of neighborhoods, towns and cities across the nation – is on view at the Tremont Health Action Center at 1826 Arthur Ave. in the Bronx. The exhibit, entitled “Undesign the Redline,” runs until March 30, was developed by Fordham adjunct professor Gregory Jost and studio Designing the We, in collaboration with the Center for Health Equity of the NYC Department of Health. The exhibit not only maps the redlining that began in NYC in the 1930s, but also provides personal stories.

The exhibit shows how the decades-long practice condemned numerous areas to financial and social neglect, while ensuring that already thriving areas continued to do so. Aaron Mayorga in The Riverdale Press describes how the exhibit illustrates the discriminatory practice.

Redlining began at the height of the Great Depression after the 1934 creation of the Federal Housing Administration, which dispensed low-cost mortgages and loans to American homeowners on the brink of foreclosure. In 1935, the FHA tasked the newly created Home Owners’ Loan Corp. to survey neighborhoods across 239 U.S. cities and create “residential security maps.” These maps, in turn, assessed the “safety” of a real estate investment in a given area.

To simplify their appraisal system, the loan corporation surveys used colors and letters — green A, blue B, yellow C and red D — to distinguish areas from one another. 

Green neighborhoods were considered “optimal” investments, while blue areas were thought of as nearly as good. Meanwhile, neighborhoods shaded in yellow or red were considered undesirable for investing, and the FHA, Veterans Affairs and private banks refused to lend to homeowners living in these areas.

Jost said he first got interested in studying the practice…

…while working for the University Neighborhood Housing Program, a community-based nonprofit that provides housing information and resources to those living in the northwest Bronx. He later found this practice was fatal to areas not marked green or blue — many of which were located in the Bronx — cutting off homeowners from any type of financing.

That resulted in a rapid decay in that area’s quality of life. 

However, a much different fate met neighborhoods deemed “safe” by the federal government’s evaluators.

In the loan corporation’s 1938 maps of New York City, only a handful of communities were considered “first rate,” including Fieldston and parts of North Riverdale and Spuyten Duyvil. On these same maps, Van Cortlandt Village is blue, while parts of Kingsbridge alternate in differing shades of lender desirability between blue and yellow.

Go to The Riverdale Press to learn what NYC health commissioner Mary T. Bassett had to say about the practice of redlining and its legacy in the city.

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