The Knowledge Series

The Knowledge Series is a project dedicated to sharing information with our communities on how housing discrimination manifests today. Throughout this week, we will share a series of posts that delve into the history of housing discrimination and what it looks like in our everyday.

Please read Parts 1 and 2 of the Series.

Part 3: Where does this manifest today?

In our last blog post, we briefly discussed the historical roots of American racism, white supremacy, and how it relates to the current wealth gap between white* and Black families. In this post, we’ll discuss the relationship between racism, white supremacy, and housing inequality in the U.S. today. 

In the 1930s, the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) began rating communities based on economic and housing factors. These rankings were used to determine eligibility for mortgages, dictating who could and could not buy property in these neighborhoods. The effects of these ratings were astronomical, as poor communities (often primarily composed of Black families) were generally given poorer rankings, families in these neighborhoods were unable to obtain mortgages to purchase homes. The rankings from the HOLC have had long-lasting impacts. Today, almost 64% of communities rated “Hazardous” by the HOLC, remain largely composed of people of color (Mitchell & Franco, 2018). Furthermore, these communities are still experiencing the impacts of the economic discrimination that ensued following the HOLC’s racist community rankings. 85.82% of neighborhoods ranked “Best” by the HOLC are still majority white (Mitchell & Franco, 2018).

These rankings have had lasting impacts. In Durham, for example, between 2007-2014 almost four times more trees were planted in “Best” neighborhoods compared to “Hazardous” neighborhoods (De Marco & Hunt, 2018). In addition to providing beauty, trees increase residential property values and are often a sign of better-maintained neighborhoods.

The More You Know: The HOLC’s Hold Hits Close to Home
A Durham Case Study
Literature Review: Racial Inequality, Poverty and Gentrification in Durham, North Carolina
Allison De Marco & Heather Hunt, Summer 2018
The practice of redlining was defined by the HOLC’s rankings of largely-Black communities as “less safe” and therefore having a “lower lending ability.” These communities were rated as “Hazardous,” considered the riskiest for lenders, and colored red on maps. Although the HOLC outwardly described their ratings as based in economics, they intentionally redlined historically Black communities to prevent investment in those communities.
The HOLC said that the rankings were to determine “creditworthiness using a range of criteria, including race, immigration status, and class.” In Durham, the redlined neighborhoods most closely corresponded with Black, rather than poor, neighborhoods, indicating that not all factors were weighed evenly. At the time, Durham had a thriving Black business community and not all of the redlined communities were poor.      
Regardless, they were still redlined by the HOLC’s rankings, written off as the least desirable communities to invest in. This made it immediately difficult for families to either move out of or invest in these communities, as their address was commonly a deal-breaker in applying for loans and mortgages.  
The HOLC effectively worked to dismantle the successful economic systems that Black residents had miraculously built for themselves in Durham. Redlining stifled economic development and doomed communities to a cycle of poverty and racial housing segregation.  Though Black Durhamites had created ways to build wealth and obtain land and homes, these communities were then stripped of the wealth-building opportunities they had diligently curated for themselves. Several redlined neighborhoods in Durham are still in a cycle of poverty, as residents are unable to accrue the wealth necessary to move or invest in the community. Although the HOLC is no longer in use, the negative effects are still being felt by Black families today.        

De Marco, A., & Hunt, H. (2018). Racial Inequality, Poverty and Gentrification in Durham, North Carolina. North Carolina Poverty Research Fund.

Eventually, even heavily segregated urban neighborhoods became undesirable for many white families. Instead, white families chose to leave cities and move to areas on the outskirts of major metropolitan areas, known as suburbs. This process, known as “white flight” or suburbanization, led to an incredible amount of divestment from cities–affecting everything from schools to infrastructure. Black families often lacked the resources needed to move to the suburbs, forcing them to remain in communities that could no longer support their basic needs. This made home and land ownership even more difficult to obtain as banks did not want to invest in dwindling cities.

Soon, the suburbs got old for white families too. Upon moving back into cities, white families decided to aesthetically beautify them by putting in lavish patisseries, designer boutiques, fancy restaurants, and new, more expensive apartment buildings. This is the modern process of gentrification and has further increased housing disparities between Black and white communities. Many Black families cannot always afford the increased property values and, therefore, increased taxes associated with gentrification and are forced to sell their homes because they can no longer afford to stay in their neighborhood. 

Durham and Chapel Hill have been so heavily gentrified by white, middle-class college students and families, that the homelessness rate has grown over the past 5 years, despite direct efforts to lower the rate. Tomorrow we will dive into how these systems directly manifest in Orange County and Durham. We will work to better understand how redlining, white flight, and gentrification have taken hold in modern communities and how Black families have been disproportionately affected.

*In general, CEF uses APA grammar rules in our writing. The APA says that the names of race and ethnic identities should be capitalized, as they are proper nouns. For this series, and moving forward, CEF is intentionally leaving “white” (when referring to a racial identity) lower-cased. We recognize that by capitalizing words we are giving them power and we do not want to encourage white power in any way. Unlike the AP’s explanation for why they are choosing to lower-case “white” we want to be clear that we believe white people do have a shared experience–that is one of privilege. We also believe that undoing racism is the responsibility of white people and worry that implying that white people do not have a shared experience (as the AP does) is a dangerous tactic that is aimed at discounting the responsibility that white people have in undoing racism and white supremacist culture. Ultimately, we know that race is a construct but that racial differences are not. They are real and need to be addressed directly. For any questions or clarifications around CEF’s choice of words please contact ari rosenberg (arir[at]

De Marco, A., & Hunt, H. (2018). Racial Inequality, Poverty and Gentrification in Durham, North Carolina. North Carolina Poverty Research Fund.

Mitchell, B., & Franco, J. (2018, March 20). HOLC “Redlining” Maps: The Persistent Structure Of Segregation And Economic Inequality. National Community Reinvestment Coalition.

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CEF: Community Empowerment Fund

Chapel Hill: 919-200-0233 Durham: 919-797-9233