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  • Writer's pictureJesse Ledbetter

Redlining Richmond - part 1

Updated: Mar 10, 2021

When the topic of systemic racism is discussed, the topic of redlining is never far behind.

However, before we jump into the topic, we need to address a powerful concept at its core: the Mortgage. At its core, a mortgage is a contract between parties in which those with capital agree to loan that money to another, with the promise of repayment, and the underlying security of an asset as a guarantee of being made whole. The mortgagee stands to make a profit on their investment over the course of years. The mortgagor is able to purchase something they would not otherwise be able to afford. The "creative financing" of the 1980's have changed things significantly in a macro scale, but at the small level, this is still true.

In the case of real estate, the mortgagor is enabled to purchase one of the safer investments (minus 2008-2009) that the world has ever seen. They are able to store wealth in this investment over the course of their life, use its equity in order to finance other endeavors (business or pleasure), and eventually have command over their own destiny, instead of being under the thumb of a landlord (that hold over term from the middle ages).

In 1910, Richmond became the second city in the US to institute race based zoning (Balitimore being the first). By the 1940's, while such practices were illegal, it was real estate agents and bankers who maintained these racial segregation by "stearing." By the late 1940's the Homeowner’s Loan Corp. (HOLC) was instituted by the federal goverment to enable those recovering from the Great Depression to get financing, however, it was this federal agency that created what we call "redlining."

HOLC created maps of areas that graded areas A-D. When looking at the map above against racial zoning codes, it becomes clear what the intent of HOLC was. Areas marked in red as "D" also corresponded with predominantly black zoned areas. C was typically that of mixed working-class areas, and A and B that of predominantly white areas. D areas were ineligible for standard mortgages. To anyone from Richmond, the long-lasting impact of these policies is obvious, however, the NY Times article and ARC GIS articles below make the impact even more clear.

What happens when we segregate those who have only recently been freed from slavery and forced illiteracy into geographic areas together? And provide sub-par education? And turn slave catching forces into the police? And refuse to provide the same economic benefits of their neighbors to amass wealth for generations?

In continuing parts of this series, we will continue to ask questions that will likely make the reader more uncomfortable than these. They demand that we ponder them. They demand action.

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