The Legacy of Redlining in Rust Belt Cities

2015-08-26T09:32:09-04:00March 19, 2015|

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.





Data Sources:

HOLC maps for Detroit and Chicago were downloaded from and the Cleveland map was downloaded from The Ohio State University Library’s collection.

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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  1. Scott March 23, 2015 at 12:07 pm

    There is a similar project for Hartford from Trinity College and University of Connecticut; more here:

    • Jim in Chicago March 26, 2015 at 12:43 am

      Sorry, but I’m emphatically calling BS with regards to the color coding on these maps… at least as far as their being current (like in the past 25 years or so anyway). I don’t live in Cleveland anymore, but I do live smack in the middle of one of the areas on the Chicago map (South Side) that is coded pink (as in D-Grade) and I can tell you that not only is the area far from ‘to be avoided’ (still largely white and low crime in comparison to the city’s average), you can’t even touch a modest building for under $200,000 and the property values are climbing. There are multiple areas on the map in Chicago that are also nowhere near the level that they are portrayed on the map. Either update your sources, or don’t post bogus info. Otherwise, come to Bridgeport and see for yourself… this is still Mayor Daley’s neighborhood — even if the old man moved to a ritzier pad near Printer’s Row and isn’t the mayor anymore. Tons of development going on here.

      • Anne Trubek March 26, 2015 at 7:57 am

        Jim: The color coded maps are from the 1930s. The black and gray maps are current. See the explanation posted on top of the maps to understand the difference between the older and newer ones.

  2. kjames196 March 30, 2015 at 11:04 am

    How can you see the HOLC maps? When I use the zoom function, it just zooms, it doesn’t go between maps. I’m using Google Chrome on a Mac.

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