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Redlining is the practice of denying or increasing the cost of services such as banking, insurance, access to jobs, access to health care, or even supermarkets to residents in certain, often racially determined, areas. The term "redlining" was coined in the late 1960s by community activists in Chicago. It describes the practice of marking a red line on a map to delineate the area where banks would not invest; later the term was applied to discrimination against a particular group of people (usually by race or sex) no matter the geography. During the heyday of redlining, the areas most frequently discriminated against were black inner city neighborhoods. Through at least the 1990s this practice meant that banks would often lend to lower income whites but not to middle or upper income blacks.

"Reverse redlining" is a term often used to describe situations where a lender or insurer particularly targets minority consumers, not to deny them loans or insurance, but rather to charge them more than would be charged to a similarly situated majority consumer.

Although in the United States informal discrimination and segregation have always existed, the practice called "redlining" began with the National Housing Act of 1934, which established the Federal Housing Administration (FHA). The federal government contributed to the early decay of inner city neighborhoods by withholding mortgage capital and making it difficult for these neighborhoods to attract and retain families able to purchase homes. In 1935, the Federal Home Loan Bank Board (FHLBB) asked Home Owners' Loan Corporation (HOLC) to look at 239 cities and create "residential security maps" to indicate the level of security for real-estate investments in each surveyed city. Such maps defined many minority neighborhoods in cities as ineligible to receive financing. The maps were based on assumptions about the community, not accurate assessments of an individual's or household's ability to satisfy standard lending criteria. Since blacks were unwelcome in white neighborhoods, which frequently instituted racial restrictive covenants to keep them out, the policy effectively meant that blacks could not secure mortgage loans at all. At various times the practice also affected other ethnic groups, including Latinos, Asians, and Jews. The assumptions in redlining resulted in a large increase in residential racial segregation and urban decay in the United States. Urban planning historians theorize that the maps were used by private and public entities for years afterwards to deny loans to people in black communities. However, recent research has indicated that the HOLC did not redline in its own lending activities, and that the racist language reflected the bias of the private sector and experts hired to conduct the appraisals.

On the maps, the newest areas — those considered desirable for lending purposes — were outlined in blue and known as "Type A". These were typically affluent suburbs on the outskirts of cities. "Type B" neighborhoods were considered "Still Desirable", whereas older "Type C" were labeled "Declining" and outlined in yellow. "Type D" neighborhoods were outlined in red and were considered the most risky for mortgage support. These neighborhoods tended to be the older districts in the center of cities; often they were also black neighborhoods.

Some redlined maps were also created by private organizations, such as J.M. Brewer's 1934 map of Philadelphia. Private organizations created maps designed to meet the requirements of the Federal Housing Administration's underwriting manual. The lenders had to consider FHA standards if they wanted to receive FHA insurance for their loans. FHA appraisal manuals instructed banks to steer clear of areas with "inharmonious racial groups" and recommended that municipalities enact racially restrictive zoning ordinances, as well as covenants prohibiting black owners.

In the United States, the Fair Housing Act of 1968 was passed to fight the practice. It prohibited redlining when the criteria for redlining are based on race, religion, gender, familial status, disability, or ethnic origin. The Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 further required banks to apply the same lending criteria in all communities. Although open redlining was made illegal in the 70s through community reinvestment legislation, the practice continued in less overt ways., and many allege that the redlining target group has shifted from African Americans to the LGBT community.

ShoreBank, a community-development bank in Chicago's South Shore neighborhood, was a part of the private-sector fight against redlining. Founded in 1973, ShoreBank sought to combat racist lending practices in Chicago's African-American communities by providing financial services, especially mortgage loans, to local residents. Many sources characterize ShoreBank's efforts as overwhelmingly inspirational and successful. In a 1992 speech, then-Presidential candidate Bill Clinton called ShoreBank “the most important bank in America.”