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Redlining’s Mark On San Diego Persists 50 Years After Housing Protections

A 1936 map of San Diego from the Home Owners' Loan Corporation, marking which...

Credit: T-RACES

Above: A 1936 map of San Diego from the Home Owners' Loan Corporation, marking which neighborhoods it believed were at highest risk of mortgage default. Those determinations were heavily influenced by a neighborhoods' racial demographics and led to the term "redlining."

Redlining's Mark On San Diego Persists 50 Years After Housing Protections


Richard Rothstein, author, "The Color of Law"

Stephen Russell, executive director, San Diego Housing Federation


San Diego housing experts and policymakers will meet Friday to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act. The landmark legislation outlawed discrimination from landlords, lenders and home sellers.

The keynote speaker will be Richard Rothstein, a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute and author, “The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America.” Rothstein argues segregation was mainly perpetuated by two New Deal-era policies: a system of public housing projects that mandated segregation and the creation of the Federal Housing Administration, which secured loans exclusively for white families in the suburbs.

“We have a national myth that the racial segregation that still exists in every metropolitan area in this country is created by simply private prejudice, private lending practices, people’s desires to live with others of the same race,” Rothstein said. “This is false.”

The federal government also created the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation in the 1930s to refinance home loans across the country in the midst of the Great Depression. The agency then drew up maps for major American cities as a guide for banks, marking which neighborhoods wouldn’t qualify for federal mortgage insurance guarantees.

A 1936 map of San Diego from the agency shows much of southeastern San Diego in red, compared to La Jolla and Coronado in blue. That color coding is what led to the term, “redlining.” Here’s how the federal agency described Logan Heights:

“Racial concentration of colored fraternity. Homes show only slight degree of pride of ownership and are on the average negligently maintained.”

And La Jolla:

“Residents embrace nearly all types of professions and are all white. No threat of foreign infiltration. Homes are well maintained.”

San Diego Redlining Map

Those maps had repercussions for decades, according to San Diego State University history professor Andrew Wiese.

“The (Home Owners’ Loan Corporation) appraisal standards and presumptions, including the preference for racial homogeneity in neighborhoods, was adopted and put into practice by federal agencies such as the (Federal Housing Authority) and (Department of Veterans Affairs) home mortgage programs, and subsequently by private lenders as well, thus vastly expanding residential segregation and racial inequality after World War II through government subsidized, racially segregated suburban sprawl on the one hand and racialized urban disinvestment on the other,” Wiese wrote in an email.

Stephen Russell, executive director of the San Diego Housing Federation, said those maps are nearly identical to socio-economic maps of San Diego today, with a few exceptions. Little Italy and servants’ quarters in La Jolla were marked red in 1936, but are now some of San Diego’s most affluent neighborhoods.

“The work we do, people think it’s finished,” Russell said. “I spoke with an attorney who said, ‘Fair housing. Didn’t we pass that law 50 years ago?’ as if it was done. I think we need to renew the spirit of folks who work in a very difficult area and help them understand and connect with the reasons why we do this very important work.”

Rothstein and Russell join KPBS Midday Edition on Thursday with more on San Diego’s housing segregation.

Charting the Course: Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act

When: Friday, April 6 at 9 a.m.

Where: San Diego Central Library

The event is open to the public but a fee is required.


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