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MSU Extension develops online resource on the history of redlining

Posted at 11:01 AM, Oct 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-13 11:01:45-04

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State University Extension has launched an online resource on the history of the racist practice of redlining in Michigan.

"They developed maps, where they drew colors around neighborhoods, and part of the criteria for determining those colors was race," said MSU Extension Specialist Craig Carpenter.

Redlining started in the 1930s during the Great Depression. The Roosevelt administration and Congress passed various rescue measures to help deal with the financial crisis.

"The federal government bailed out banks, building and loans and homeowners because part of the financial crisis of the Great Depression was a crisis in the home finance sector," said LaDale Winling, an associate professor of history at Virginia Tech.

Initially, they lent to all people, but things changed.

"The Homeowners Loan Corporation created a survey in which they sent questionnaires out to lenders and real estate appraisers and real estate brokers in cities around the country and asked, 'Where are the boundaries of the neighborhoods in your city? And where are the stable neighborhoods? And where are the neighborhoods that are bad investments?'" Winling said.

These boundaries were broken into four graded categories:

  • A, Green, “Best”
  • B, Blue, “Still Desirable”
  • C, Yellow, “Declining”
  • D, Red, “Hazardous"

"The justification is given by government appraisers and this rich, really coarse and racist language given by the appraisers because that was the specific rules they were following created by the federal government," Carpenter said.
The practice left an enduring mark on many communities. The color of their skin and the color of a line kept many Black people from being able to borrow money to buy a home, which in turn made it difficult for them to build up generational wealth.

"They didn't have the resources to kind of pass on wealth to the next generation, because like one of the major sources of wealth to pass on to the next generation is the equity in your home," Winling said. "And so if you're in a red line neighborhood, you have much less opportunity, and there's a much lower levels of home appreciation because of these federal programs."

On MSU's website, they break down the language appraisers used when justifying these lines. In Detroit's Mexican town they wrote,"heavy concentration low grade aliens” and “undesirable aliens.” In Midtown, they used wording such as, “infiltration” of “Negroes from the east.”

MSU Extension has not been able to locate the grading justification for Lansing, East Lansing and Jackson, but that doesn't mean it didn't exist.

"East Lansing, though was was well known as a town that was very heavily redlined. It was not welcoming to African American families in particular, "said John Aerni-Flessner, a professor in Michigan State University's Residential College in the Arts and Humanities.

The lingering effects of redlining can be felt in neighborhoods to this day in everything from health to educational opportunities to housing stock.

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