Redlining Rhode Island
How the government enforced segregation and blocked Black homeownership
The term “redlining” refers to the discriminatory practice of color-coding maps to indicate predominantly Black and brown neighborhoods.
On the heels of the Great Depression, the government-backed Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) was created to refinance home mortgages in danger of foreclosure. The HOLC began producing color-coded maps in 1933, to be used by appraisers and mortgage lenders when issuing loans.
Neighborhoods marked in green were deemed the best areas. Blue areas were considered “still desirable,” while yellow areas were “definitely declining.” Red neighborhoods — those with minority occupants — were considered hazardous to lenders and were marked in red (hence, redlining).
The impact of redlining would be felt for decades to come as Black families were systematically denied homeownership, and as such, the opportunity to build intergenerational wealth.
Most Black people were denied loans between 1934–1962, while White people received nearly all loans from the Federal Housing Administration.
This website from “Mapping Inequality” overlays the HOLC’s redlined maps with modern maps. It’s an eye-opening resource, and lays clear the fact that Rhode Island did not escape the impacts of redlining and other discriminatory housing practices.
In 1936 the HOLC redlined several Providence neighborhoods including Fox Point, South Providence, West Elmwood, Lippitt Hill and large sections of College Hill. They deemed 62 percent of the capital city to be “definitely declining.”
Providence was not the only city in Rhode Island to be redlined.
Part of Pawtucket was redlined on the 1935 map starting near the Division Street bridge, following the river down Pleasant Street and reaching up into downtown. In nearby Central Falls, a neighborhood off Lonsdale Avenue was redlined.
Woonsocket’s map shows three red neighborhoods: East Woonsocket/Ward 5, the southern portion of Bernon/Ward 1 and a swath of “Privilege”/Ward 5.
A “green” ward on the 1935 map of Woonsocket includes an accompanying note indicating that the neighborhood was home to “business executives and professional people,” with homes in “an excellent state of repair.”
The impact of redlining
The HOLC’s maps indicated areas that mortgage lenders should avoid. Those areas — marked in red — were mostly Black neighborhoods. As a result, Black communities were almost entirely barred from receiving home loans and were eventually pushed/priced out of their own neighborhoods.
Redlining — one of many, many racist housing practices — would help bring about a colossal loss of community culture, contributing to segregation and racial inequalities in opportunities for homeownership and wealth accumulation. From the 1930s to 1959, just 2 percent of FHA loans went to Black families.
Redlining also helped pave the way for urban renewal — a movement that largely wiped-out Black neighborhoods across America and re-segregated areas that were previously integrated.
We can’t understate the fact that government-sanctioned systemic inequity disrupted and dismantled Black families and communities. This is the invisible legacy our Black neighbors carry with them, and it has endured to this day.
While millions of White families obtained FHA loans that helped them purchase their own homes with low down payments, Black families living in redlined communities were denied that opportunity; forced out of their neighborhoods and into the slums.
This Black History Month, as we consider the legacy of Black resistance in Rhode Island and nationwide, it’s important to remember that the smallest state was not exempt from the discriminatory practice of redlining.
According to HousingWorks RI’s 2021 Factbook, White Rhode Islanders have a homeownership rate (68 percent) twice that of Black residents (34 percent).
It’s also important to note that redlining was and is far from the only racist housing policy that has impacted our Black neighbors. Segregation is not solely fueled by one law, policy or practice — but practices like redlining exacerbated existing inequality and segregation.
Looking to the future, additional investments into affordable housing and policies that support Black homeownership are crucial if we’re to undo the damage of discriminatory housing practices like redlining.
Explore redlined maps at Mapping Inequality
Attend this hybrid discussion hosted by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University: Housing Finance & Social Equity: Addressing Race and Racism in Mortgage Lending, Tues., Feb 28 at 11 a.m.
Read Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America
This post was written by Nicole Dotzenrod, Housing Network of Rhode Island communications manager.
Do you have a story you would like to uplift? Email Nicole at firstname.lastname@example.org to submit an idea or guest blog post.