The system of redlining is a historical housing policy that was established by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) in 1934. It was the first time in US history that the federal government got involved in the homeownership and mortgage lending system. The FHA created a universal lending system that completely changed access to homeownership for middle-income households. As part of the program, risk assessment maps were developed. These maps used a color-coded system to depict the level of risk in each neighborhood. For example, the maps used RED to show the highest risk neighborhoods, the neighborhoods with the highest concentration of "hazardous populations," low valued property, and low economic incomes. These were the neighborhoods that were cut off from receiving FHA loans. This is where the term redlining originated.
Click through to see the redline maps from across the State of Iowa.
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These documents included surveys, paragraphs, and other written statements detailing exactly why each neighborhood got the color it received. Lenders, bankers, and real estate agents completed surveys for their organizations, looking at where loans were being granted across the city. These surveys were then used to help form the maps and the more detailed area descriptions. Within these descriptions, language such as “infiltration of hazardous populations” or “invasion of hazardous groups” was used to describe the desire for separation based on race and was often found in the paragraphs referring to yellow and red neighborhoods.
The Chautauqua Park neighborhood is an island of green in a sea of red and yellow on the Redlining Map of Des Moines. This neighborhood was given a green rating because it had a racially restrictive covenant barring blacks or Jews from owning property.
In 1944, the Chautauqua Park Improvement League worked hard to bar Archie Alexander, a wealthy black engineer, and his family from buying a home in the neighborhood. While the group was unsuccessful, some residents did not approve of Archie and his family moving in, so they decided to leave.
What Came Before...
We know that redlining did not just appear out of thin air; there is a substantial amount of influential and important history leading up to its inception.
Slavery, Indian Removal Act, Scientific Racism, Exclusionary Laws
Black Codes, Jim Crow, Ku Klux Klan, Sundown Towns
Second Rise of Ku Klux Clan, Racially Restrictive Deeds and Covenants, Anti-Black Sentiments
Urban Renewal and Freeway Construction
By the 1950s, Des Moines was almost 100% segregated. The African American population was confined to redlined neighborhoods which continued to see disinvestment. Around the early 1960s, two federal programs, Urban Renewal and the Interstate system, were beginning to affect the country. Across Iowa, especially in the City of Des Moines, we see these two programs significantly disrupt and impact the African American community. Thousands of households were displaced and discriminated against in both the eminent domain and resettlement processes.
The History of Center Street
Center street was an African American neighborhood that grew into a cultural and economic epicenter by the late 1920s. It included multiple blocks of black-owned businesses, most notably multiple social and jazz clubs, which brought famous musicians from across the country to Des Moines. Unfortunately, most of Center Street's black economic, social, and cultural life was lost when the interstate and Urban Renewal came through in the 1960s and 1970s. As a result, an area that had once served and supported the black community was bulldozed without a second thought.
What is Redlining's Legacy?
Areas of Concentration
We see areas of concentration of our black population- in the same places that were 100% segregated in 1950 and have consistently been segregated over the last 70 years. It’s also where we see high concentrations of our low-income populations. We also know from research that black residents in Des Moines are the demographic group most likely to live in poverty.
There are also significant inequalities in our community found in the One Economy Report “The State of Black Polk County” done by the Director’s Council in 2020. The report found that 69% of the black population rents their home compared to 33% of the general population. And Of the renter population -of that 69%, 53% are cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30% of their income on rent and utilities.
Gentrification is occurring in previously redlined neighborhoods. Many of these inner neighborhoods are close to downtowns which have seen large quantities of revitalization to draw people back to them. So now the inner neighborhoods are being primed for investment, not for the people who live there, but for those who can afford it.