The Persistence of Racial Segregation through Redlining

Authors: Wenfei Xu*, Columbia University
Topics: Spatial Analysis & Modeling, Urban and Regional Planning, Population Geography
Keywords: racial segregation, stratification, redlining,
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Forum Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The 1930s witnessed the birth of the modern-day mortgage lending market in the United States. As part of the government’s attempt to aid homeowners at risk of foreclosure during the Great Depression, the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) to help borrowers refinance financially demanding mortgage loans. The HOLC created over 150 Residential Security Maps across the US that separated neighborhoods by zones of perceived credit risk, which fell largely along racial boundaries. As these maps were compiled by local examiners, bank officers, appraisers, and real estate professionals, they are a codification of local racially-biased lending practices, which unfolded more prominently with Federal Housing Administration redlining polices in the ensuing years. The long-term consequences of institutionalized redlining practices manifest through differential accrual of wealth and concentration of disadvantage. Using recently digitized HOLC maps and historical US census data, this paper investigates the path-dependent effects of the HOLC categorizations by asking the following questions: Do wealth, segregation, and disadvantage accumulate differently across different HOLC zones? Do these zones have spatial effects of “seeding” wealth, segregation, and disadvantage, and how does this differ across the different HOLC zones? I use spatial Markov processes to conduct a decade by decade analysis using 1930 to 2010 census data. Initial results suggest that spatial structure of cities and the expansions of both impoverished and affluent neighborhoods have largely remained within their original A-B and C-D designations, with the main exception being previously impoverished neighborhoods that are now rapidly gentrifying.

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