Brief Addressing the Legacies of Historical Redlining
Correlations with Measures of Modern Housing Instability
Matthew Gerken, Samantha Batko, Katie Fallon, Emma Fernandez, Abigail Williams, Brendan Chen
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“Redlining” of neighborhoods, one of a number of explicitly racist United States federal housing policies in the mid–twentieth century, blocked Black households and other communities of color from accessing home mortgages—and as a result homeownership—for decades. The practice has been linked to present day racialized neighborhood poverty and ongoing negative impacts on formerly redlined neighborhoods.

In an attempt to address or mitigate decades of racist housing policies, some policymakers and jurisdictions are considering reparative policies and otherwise prioritizing Black households and others disenfranchised by past racist housing policies. Given the prominence of redlining maps and analyses that find associations between redlining and negative impacts on neighborhoods, some policy makers have focused on redlined areas as a criteria for qualifying for direct assistance.

In this brief, we explore the extent to which historical redlining patterns correlate with current risk of housing instability. Using redlining maps for more than 200 cities digitized by the University of Richmond as a base and a number of instability indicators including the Urban Institute’s Emergency Rental Assistance Priority (ERA Priority) Index, eviction filing data from the Eviction Lab, and Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) data, we examine the extent to which redlined areas correlate with concentrations of people who are most at risk of housing instability. It is important to note that the overall practice of restricting access to housing based on race still happens today, but for the purposes of this brief, when we talk about redlining, we mean the legacy of the Federal Housing Administration (FHA).

We find that the relationship between historical redlining and current risk of housing instability is limited and nuanced. Nationally, redlining was not consistently associated with risk of housing instability as measured by the ERA Priority Index and eviction filings. This trend varies across cities, as some have stronger positive correlations and others have stronger negative correlations between redlining and housing instability as we measure it. Consistent with other prior research, our findings suggest that redlining does seem to correlate more strongly with measures of neighborhood opportunity and the built environment. Given the prominent attention redlining has received in academic literature and in local policy debates, it is important to understand the nuances of these relationships.

Based on this analysis, we draw a number of conclusions and policy implications:

  • Redlining has inconsistent and low to moderate correlation with many measures of current housing instability, including eviction filings and housing instability as measured by the ERA Priority Index.
  • Intentionally targeting redlined areas with emergency rental assistance or other emergency housing assistance would be an ineffective way of reaching the people most in need. Instead, efforts to geographically target emergency rent assistance and other emergency housing assistance would be better targeted using data on current need.
Research Areas Housing Race and equity
Tags Housing stability Race, gender, class, and ethnicity Racial and ethnic disparities Racial inequities in neighborhoods and community development Racial segregation
Policy Centers Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center Research to Action Lab