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The History

What is Redlining?


At its core, redlining was the discriminatory practice of ruling certain neighborhoods or communities ineligible for lending based on race or other characteristics. It was advanced by federal government policy, notably by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) beginning in 1934. That agency frequently used discriminatory methods to assess who would be eligible for federally backed mortgage insurance, and who would not.


We can see the legacy of historic housing discrimination in maps created by another federal program, the Home Owners Loan Corporation. Local realtors analyzed neighborhoods in 238 cities, using a color-coded method to assess the risk of its borrowers in specific neighborhoods. They considered home valuation, property conditions, and other neighborhood descriptors to assess the risk of households within cities across the country. This analysis aimed to create maps indicating where the least risky borrowers lived and the highest risk borrowers lived. Non-white borrowers and working class people were considered higher risk.


Iowa's Maps

Use the navigation arrows at right and left to view Iowa's redlining maps. Tap a map image to view it full screen.

The color-coded system used Green and Blue to represent the best and lowest risk neighborhoods, Yellow to represent declining neighborhoods that were high risk, and Red to represent the highest risk and hazardous neighborhoods.


Jim Crow era segregation in this New Deal program meant that the most diverse areas were automatically given a red rating even if they were thriving and middle class. Black populations and other immigrant and working populations were referred to by terms such as "hazardous populations" by the map makers.

The Maps

Map Legend



lowest risk

best property values

white population



low risk

buffer zones

white population



high risk

decreased investment

mixed population



highest risk

no investment

mixed population


Area Descriptions

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.

Zoom in: Chautaqua Park

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.

Discriminatory housing practices
beyond redlining

  • Racially restrictive deeds

  • Racially restrictive neighborhood covenants

  • Sundown towns

  • Blockbusting

  • The GI Bill of 1944

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.


Redlining's Legacy


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.

Increased Inequalities

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.


What can our community do?

We are releasing a series of blog posts exploring how to support inclusive housing opportunity in Greater Des Moines

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