Red Lining | Urban Living
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Red Lining

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With racism in the news these past few weeks, I paused when I read that Salt Lake Mayor Mendenhall reportedly keeps an old map of "red lining" at her desk. I've not thought about that topic since I'd been in real estate school 36 years ago, as the topic is covered thoroughly in licensing classes and discussed regularly in continuing ed.

In the U.S., housing discrimination against African Americans was so intense that, in the 1930s, the Home Owners' Loan Corporation created color-coded maps of neighborhoods said to be high risk for loan defaults. Why would a bank grant a home loan to someone who wanted to live in a "red" area if the odds were (according the HOLC) that the buyer would default?

The maps weren't just unique to Salt Lake—there were 238 cities that used these maps as a guide to where home loans should not be granted because of high risk.

Here in Utah, the maps specifically noted where "Negroes" lived, which were areas that were coincidentally red-lined. The "best" neighborhoods where lenders easily gave out loans were upper Sugar House, property around the University of Utah, the Avenues and Sugar House itself. The main "red" areas where lenders were advised against granting mortgages were Rose Park, the west side (i.e., Poplar Grove) and Liberty Wells. Each block of the map had related information as to the education, average income, percent of vacant homes/owner occupied homes and, yes, the racial makeup of each and every street.

President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968 as a follow-up to the same act of 1964. It added language that prohibited discrimination concerning the sale, rental and financing of housing based on race, religion, national, origin, sex (which was later amended), handicap and family status. It had one hell of a time getting passed through Congress and was carefully watched by civil rights activists.

In 1968, after Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered, and riots erupted, the bill ended up flying through Congress. Red-line maps were banned, and any lender caught using anything like them would face federal charges. These rules still apply today, and Realtors continue to watch for overt discrimination in housing.

We still have problems with affordable home ownership in our capitol city and in Utah. Economic segregation is obvious if you drive around the city. You'll find neighborhoods full of blight and areas of obvious wealth, and everything in between. We can't control housing prices, but we can make sure our buyer's lender is not steering them away from where they want to live by denying a loan because of their race.