By Evan Tachovsky
In the 1930s, the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) set out to evaluate mortgage lending risk in American cities. The resulting maps codified and legitimized the racism of the day, drawing literal red lines around neighborhoods deemed high risk because of “undesirable inhabitant types.” African Americans living in these areas were excluded from the mortgage market and targeted by predatory lenders, creating a cycle of insecurity and poverty.
Across the Rust Belt, the legacy of this bureaucratic discrimination is still apparent today. In the maps below, I layered current income data from the U.S. Census on top of the HOLC maps of Detroit, Cleveland, and Chicago.
On the Census layer, dark grey areas are above the poverty line while light grey areas are below the poverty line. On the HOLC layer, green areas are Grade A (“highly desirable”), blue are Grade B (“somewhat desirable”), yellow are Grade C (“declining”), and red are Grade D (“to be avoided”). Use zoom to navigate between the two layers or the search box to go to a specific address.
Tract-level median income data from the 5-year American Community Survey was downloaded from the Census website. The poverty line was set at $23,550, in line with the standard for a household of four published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Evan Tachovsky is a data analyst based in New York City and originally from Northeast Ohio. He’s on Twitter @evantachovsky.
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