Louisville is convincing mortgage lenders and insurance providers to inject finance into poor neighbourhoods by mapping persistent patterns of inequality across the city. ‘Redlining Louisville’ is an interactive map which compares 1930s neighbourhood segregation to current data on race, poverty and mortgage lending. The map reveals how areas which were denied finance and investment by realtors in the 1930s based on their racial makeup remain underdeveloped today. Now, city authorities are using the map in public consultations with residents, property companies, and financiers to convince them to bring much-needed investment to impoverished neighbourhoods.
Results & Impact
The project aims to raise awareness of systemic segregation, so it is difficult to measure direct impact. Turnout to the community consultations so far has been good, with each averaging 100 attendees. The city hopes to build support for regeneration in time among both residents and real estate financiers. In 2016, 18.5% of people in Kentucky had incomes below the poverty line ($24,250 for a family of four): of these, 31% were African American, and 17% white. This difference is stark within Louisville itself. In the zip code 40203 in the west of Louisville, where 94% of the population is black, 82% of residents live below the poverty line - meanwhile, in the 40206 zip code in the east, whose population is 89.5% white, just 3.5% of residents live in poverty.
Louisville Office of Redevelopment Strategies, University of Louisville.
The city of Louisville funded Joshua Poe, a local city planner, to complete his existing work on an online map which juxtaposes current data on poverty, race and housing finance to 1930s patterns of segregation. Poe had been working independently on the project since 2015 at his own expense. Each set of data is mapped across the city, allowing users to compare the current data in each neighbourhood with those areas rated as poor prospects for lending by the Federal Homeowners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) in 1937. The map reveals that the neighbourhoods that were rated low quality explicitly on the basis of their lack of racial homogeneity continue to lack access to finance and development. Without this, those areas remain stuck in a feedback loop, with residents unable to improve their living conditions while realtors and insurance companies refuse to invest on the basis of this underdevelopment. Since February the city has been using the map in public consultations with residents. In the next six months, they will begin similar consultations with housing groups and mortgage and insurance lenders to convince them to invest in historically deprived areas.
Louisville, Kentucky, US
City dwellers, ethnic minorities
Cost & Value
It cost the city of Louisville $15,000 to develop the digital map. Poe's independent work over the previous three years cost considerably more.
Completed. Consultations will continue until February 2018.
The city had to spend time consulting business groups and citizens before the map's launch. Historical documents attached to the map reveal which realtors in Louisville played a part in the original neighbourhood categorisation, which condemned black communities to disinvestment. Some of the realtors still carry the same names today. The city delayed implementation in order to forewarn those companies and families of its contents. For some in Louisville, the segregation revealed by the map remains taboo, and they have questioned why the past needs to be unearthed. The city has therefore had to tread carefully in order to ensure that the map isn’t used to make recriminations. As the map has increased calls for immediate investment in underdeveloped areas, officials have also had to work to manage expectations in terms of how quickly they can attract financing.
Other organisations in America have used security ratings from the Homeowners Loan Corporation to create interactive maps. 'Mapping Inequality' is an online map created by the University of Richmond in Virginia which plots 1930s neighbourhood ratings for a number of cities across a grid of the US. Unlike Louisville's map, 'Mapping Inequality' doesn't allow users to compare the 1930s security ratings to current housing and poverty data.
Louisville is using an innovative data visualisation to reveal persistent patterns of segregation in its neighbourhoods. Now city authorities are using it to convince mortgage lenders and insurance brokers to invest in poor areas.
The city provided funding for an online map which allows users to compare areas condemned as poor investments in a 1930s real estate survey with up-to-date census data on race, poverty, mortgage lending, property ownership, and other factors. Redlining Louisville: The History of Race, Class, and Real Estate reveals the persistence of patterns of racial and economic segregation across the city, and the impact negative categorisations continue to have on underdeveloped areas.
Over the course of three years the map was developed by local city planner Joshua Poe, who ran the project independently at his own expense, before the city funded its final stages. Louisville is showcasing the map in a number of public consultations with residents and financiers to build the case for redevelopment.
“There’s a lot of current data which correlates to the patterns we saw in the late ’30s, and it has to be more than simple coincidence that you see these same patterns when you look at data on vacant properties, real estate values, or even racial segregation,” said Jeana Dunlap, Director of the Office of Redevelopment Strategies for the Louisville metro government (ORS), which funded the final stages of the project. “The money that is invested today is still following the same patterns we saw in 1937.”
The Redlining Louisville Map is based on the 1937 residential securities map drawn up by the Federal Home Owner’s Loan Corporation (HOLC) to guide real estate financiers. The map awarded neighbourhoods grades ranging from A – “completely developed,” “hot spots” with a “homogenous population” – to D, characterised by an “undesirable population” and a “low percentage of home ownership”. Black neighbourhoods were invariably rated D.
The map was used to make risk assessments for mortgage loans and insurance. ‘Redlining’ refers to the categorisation of African American-majority neighbourhoods as C or D, which effectively denied residents access to credit. Poe discovered the map in the national archives in 2015. Upon hearing about his work, Dunlap decided to get involved.
“I wanted to make sure that we saturated the community’s consciousness with a working understanding of the past history of redlining, and what redlining looks like today,” said Dunlap. “There are lots of examples of redlining in our current communities.”
The ORS paid $15,000 for the final stages of the project, digitising the map Poe had created independently and putting it online. It allows users to compare the 1937 residential securities map to maps displaying up-to-date census data from 2010 on the same screen. The proportion of African American residents, the percentage of the population in poverty, property values, and the percentage of mortgage denials are all shown, among other metrics. The map shows consistently that the C and D rated areas in 1937 still suffer from low home ownership, poverty, and mortgage application failures. It also shows that a large number of them are African American neighbourhoods.
“We know that it can happen that neighbourhoods can overcome the redlining designations of the past,” said Dunlap. “But when you look at those neighbourhoods which haven’t overcome those designations, they tend to be heavily populated with African American people. That begs the question of whether we are making our investment decisions based on [what’s] right.”
Since the unveiling in February, Dunlap’s team has led public consultations with Louisville residents to draw attention to these historical patterns of segregation. “Our plan was to do a year’s worth of community engagement, because there’s so little information about segregation in the community,” said Dunlap. “We’ve had standing room attendance at all of our public meetings, each averaging 100 people.”
Over the next six months, Dunlap will lead consultations with financiers and real estate groups, using the map to make the case for reinvestment in underdeveloped areas.
“I talked to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis yesterday,” said Dunlap. We want to talk to the association of realtors; we want to talk to the appraisers, and make sure they understand how much power they have to influence how people make decisions today.”
Dunlap’s aim is to convince financial interests that they should take steps to improve redevelopment through investing in the people who live in these historically deprived areas. “I’m really about challenging people to think about whom they take risks on and why they do or don’t take risks on certain people.”
Dunlap began conversations with Poe in late 2015 about giving the Redlining Louisville map an online platform. Although the map itself was ready to go live in early 2016, Dunlap and her staff chose to spend time talking to real estate companies and figures in the community likely to be affected by the publication of the map. Some of the architects of the residential securities map in Louisville have descendants in the city, and Dunlap wanted to insure they were informed before it was made public.
“We wanted to make sure nobody was blindsided or accused of any wrongdoing in the process. This is not a witch hunt. It’s not about pointing fingers. It’s about finding solutions and moving forward.”
(Picture credit: Flickr/Ken Lund)