Mortgage lenders’ maps show how segregation has caused inequality for minority families
Although New Jersey is one of the most diverse states in the country, it also used to be one of the most segregated.
There is currently a lot of talk about systemic racism in the country. One of the things that’s holding society back from making progress on this is that it’s a difficult concept for some people to grasp. But Brian Donohue of News 12 New Jersey recently uncovered documents that could help illustrate the impact of systemic racism on minority communities for decades.
Donohue recently found maps of his hometown of Union Township that were made by the federal government’s Home Owner’s Loan Corporation in 1935. The company sent assessors to cities and towns across the country to assess neighborhoods on a four-part scale to advise banks on whether to lend money for mortgages in these areas.
City areas were highlighted in color – green meant a loan was advised, red meant loans were not. For the Union Township map, the red sections were then mostly black neighborhoods. The documents did not hide why the areas were highlighted in red.
The Vauxhall section of the town was declared unsafe for lenders because “the negroes and poor classes of Italians are scattered about the area”. Other maps of New Jersey cities show similar conditions, often with language now considered racist and prejudiced.
Neighborhoods with even just two or three black families were considered risky for mortgage lenders. A section of Bayonne was given a yellow rating for lenders because “the negroes are concentrated in the small section of town shown in red on the map and there appears to be little danger of them spreading”.
“It’s amazing what you’ll find in these documents,” says Robert Nelson of the University of Richmond.
Nelson is the director of digital scholarship at the university, which digitized and reassembled the maps for the Mapping Inequality project.
Nelson says the cards have often created self-fulfilling prophecies, saying “it causes disinvestment in those areas.”
The researchers found that the maps caused increased segregation and disinvestment in minority neighborhoods. The maps show some of the policies that for decades kept millions of black families from owning homes.
“As home values rise and it becomes a repository for many of the ways families build and store their wealth and pass it on to their children, that’s not happening for families of color,” Nelson says. “This is one of the reasons why the average wealth of white families is several times greater than that of black families in 2020.”