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Environmental racism perpetuated by redlining communities

Environmental racism perpetuated by redlining communities

Environmental racism perpetuated by redlining communities
May 05
16:00 2022

In the U.S., communities of color are exposed to higher levels of air pollution at each level of income. Although air quality has improved in the country over the past several decades, people of color — particularly Black and Hispanic Americans — are still exposed to higher-than-average levels of air pollution.

As is often the tale in cases of environmental injustices, the story behind why communities of color are negatively impacted by air pollution at a higher rate is rooted in historical patterns of exclusion and discrimination.

While there is no shortage of environmental justice issues deserving more attention, the damage done by redlining needs a great deal of focus.

Redlining, a racially discriminatory practice popularized in the 1930s, was a process used to mark communities of color as “financially risky” and “not worthy of investment.”

The origins of the term stem from government homeownership programs that were created as part of the New Deal. The programs offered government-insured mortgages for homeowners. These insured mortgages were a form of federal aid designed to stave off innumerable foreclosures in the wake of the Great Depression.

As these programs evolved, the government added new requirements for appraising and vetting properties and homeowners who would qualify. They used color-coded maps, ranking the loan worthiness of neighborhoods in more than 200 cities and towns across the country.

Neighborhoods were graded from “A” through “D” in terms of riskiness. Unsurprisingly, in the same nation that upheld Jim Crow segregation laws even decades after the origin of redlining, most of the communities of color were deemed “D” neighborhoods. Simply put, federal and state lawmakers would intentionally mark Black communities as expendable and unworthy of financial investment.

This redlining process led to millions of people of color, particularly Black people, being displaced into urban areas. Unable to acquire the insured mortgages their white counterparts could secure with ease, Black people were forced to reside in these “D” communities.

These communities were often where cities chose to place landfills and city-owned incinerators, which led to various health issues among the Black communities inhabiting those areas.

Decades later, these redlined, marked communities are being negatively impacted by air pollution at a disproportionately high rate. Areas that were redlined in the 1930s now experience much higher levels of nitrogen dioxide air pollution. The same is true for particulate matter, another harmful air toxin.

Redlining designations are associated with a variety of exposures, including greenspace prevalence, tree canopy and urban-heat exposure disparities. It also contributes to adverse health effects including asthma, cancer, adverse birth outcomes and overall health.

Perhaps the worst part about Black and other communities of color having to live in distressed areas impacted by redlining is that there was never a legitimate reason for certain neighborhoods to be deemed as “financially risky” or “unworthy of investment.”

The Federal Housing Administration’s justification was that if Black people inhabited the suburban homes or even homes near the suburbs, the property value would decrease and thus make the loans for the house less likely to be paid back.

The issue with this thinking — other than the blatant racism behind the sentiment that Black people occupying a house somehow makes it less valuable — is that the exact opposite was true.

Contrary to the belief that Black homeowners decrease property values, Black people historically were willing to pay more to secure housing since the options were so scarce.

So, the FHA’s decision was never based on truth and was instead rooted in deep-seated racism and hatred towards people of color. This thinly-veiled exclusion tactic was paramount in the displacement of Black communities and is a large reason the U.S. is as segregated as it is today.

Similar tactics to redlining are still being implemented today. Black people still struggle to become homeowners due to the systemic exclusion plotted against them. Across every major city in the U.S, you can find an area distastefully referred to as “the ghetto.” These “ghettos” or predominantly Black, lower-class areas are the remnants of a world ravaged by redlining restrictions.

Redlining has taken on new names and been implemented by new-age politicians, but the harmful exclusion of people of color in notable housing markets is alarming. As the U.S. works to handle its latest housing crisis, it should first aim to eliminate the harmful, racist practices implemented by housing districts.

Featured Illustration By Erika Sevilla

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Jalyn Smoot

Jalyn Smoot

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