Maps and reports drawn up by the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) include blatant redlining revealing certain areas of the city where residents were refused loans or given them with caution based on the
Photo: Mapping Inequality: Redlining In New Deal America
Bernal Heights—D13“It is inhabited largely by factory workers, and laborers with incomes ranging from $800 to $2,400. Many nationalities are represented but there is no inharmonious racial concentration.”
(Historic photo: Looking west on Cortland a 9-Line #925 streetcar shown. Courtesy of OpenSFHistory.org.)
Photo: Courtesy Of OpenSFHistory.org
Fillmore District/Western Addition—D3This large area of 125 blocks or more slopes gradually from the northwest to southeast. It is what might be termed the ‘melting pot of the West’ and is the nearest approach to a slum district in San Francisco. It has a highly congested population consisting of Japanese, Russians, Mexicans, Negroes, etc., having a very low income level. In the norther-central part of the area is the largest concentration of Japanese in the city, and Negroes predominate in its northwest section.”
“Only one mortgage institution was found who would even consider residential loans in this neighborhood, and they will only consider applications on the basis of land value.”
(Photo: San Francisco’s Fillmore District, Sept. 29, 1966.)
Photo: Robert H. Houston/AP
San Francisco likes to think of itself as a beautiful melting pot of people from different cultures, races and financial standings living harmoniously integrated within its 49 square miles.
In many ways this notion is true, and compared to other cities across the nation, San Francisco is less segregated with far fewer areas of concentrated poverty, affluence and race than metro areas such as Detroit, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and St. Louis, according to research from the University of Minnesota.
But any San Franciscan knows that segregation still exists and certain neighborhoods don’t reflect the city’s overall diversity and have high concentrations of people from certain races and financial status.
To understand the existence of this segregation and the history, it’s interesting to look at the redlining maps from the New Deal-era, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt introduced new economy recovery programs in response to the Great Depression.
The Northern California city joined the rest of the country in encouraging bankers to extend loans to the middle- and upper-class living in high-class areas and warned them against loaning money to home buyers in poor, non-white neighborhoods.
Maps and reports drawn up by the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) include blatant redlining revealing certain areas of the city where residents were refused loans or given them with caution based on the racial or ethnic composition of their neighborhood.
You can get a glimpse of this practice on the Mapping Inequality: Redlining in New Deal America site where four universities collected redlining maps for dozens of America’s largest cities including San Francisco.
“Collectively the maps are a remarkable window into racist redlining practices in mid-century America,” said Robert Nelson, director of the digital scholarship lab at the University of Richmond, one of the universities contributing to the project. “The private real estate industry practiced redlining. What the HOLC maps did was endorse those practices and through the federal government’s regulatory capacity systematically make them best practices in the era.”
Nelson added, “The effects were devastating. While obviously it’s not the only cause, by disadvantaging people of color in access to mortgage and other real estate financing, redlining helped to cause the great disparities of familial wealth between white families and families of color.”
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The language in the reports is remarkable in that the racism isn’t implicit or hidden.
While you won’t find any racial slurs, HOLC’s agents outrightly stated that neighborhoods were deemed unacceptable risks because of the presence of people of color, of immigrants, and of Jews—in some cases just a handful.
“For example, the San Francisco area descriptions refer to ‘undesirable racial elements,’” Nelson explained. “D1, for instance, explains that ‘More than half the Negro population of San Francisco are located here, and it is considered a highly hazardous area.’ That explanation is pretty typical. That language could be found in the area descriptions of any other city, as is the language about the ‘threat’ of ‘infiltration’ by people of color.”