City officials are taking a new look at the impact that bigoted and racist housing policies have had in Louisville and what it will take to repair the damage done. They’re using data and mapping tools to examine lasting effects and seeking feedback from residents about what should be done to address the problems today.
They’re hoping the feedback will help spur a yearlong conversation that begins next week with a public meeting at the Louisville Urban League.
The public discussion will center on the concept of redlining.
In the late 1930s, just months after the Ohio River banks swelled and inundated the city in the Flood of 1937, a team of appraisers, realtors and bankers drew up a color-coded map of Louisville meant to guide mortgage lending across the city.
The practice was not unique to Louisville. Cities across the country drew up similar maps with the assistance of the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, a government-sponsored entity created as part of the New Deal.
Four colors of the map dictated to lenders where they should and shouldn’t lend. Areas shaded green were considered “first grade” and at the time were “synonymous with the areas where good mortgage lenders with available funds” lived or wanted to live, according to the 1937 explanation.
“They are homogenous,” the explanation reads.
At the other end of the spectrum, areas shaded red were considered “fourth grade” and were characterized by “detrimental influences in a pronounced degree, undesirable population or an infiltration of it,” according to the explanation.
The practice led to disinvestment in “red” neighborhoods populated largely by people of color. In turn, generations of families were prevented from having equal access to financial tools necessary to buy and maintain property and homes.
In Louisville, redlined areas of the city sat within neighborhoods that still struggle with poverty, blight and crime today.
To address these issues, city officials are using data to understand the impact redlining has had in Louisville.
The evidence seems clear: Many areas redlined in the 1930s lack diversity and economic mobility, and are burdened by lower property values and vacant properties, according to new data presented this week by the city’s office of redevelopment.
And the practice that led policymakers to redline neighborhoods in the 1930s — mortgage lending — continues to be disproportionate across Louisville, the data show. Mortgage applications are denied at a higher rate in areas redlined in the 1930s than in other areas.
The first step to bridge these divides is getting information to the public, said Jeana Dunlap, the city’s director of redevelopment strategies.
“Just making people aware, putting the information in their hands and then helping them understand the greater context in ways they operate so they can be more strategic and objective in how they advocate for themselves,” she said.
Dunlap, who is African-American and was born and raised in Louisville, said redlining “has shaped my entire existence.”
She said the impact of redlining and the disinvestment in African-American neighborhoods that followed led to the demise of local businesses and commercial districts in West Louisville and “affected role model opportunities for entrepreneurship and homeownership.”
The information that’s now available about the impact of redlining is unlike anything in any other city, too, Dunlap said.
Josh Poe, a local urban planner, developed the multilayered mapping tool that allows users to see these long-term results of redlining. Users can overlay data on population race, property value, mortgage application denials and poverty levels on the 1937 redlining map for a unparalleled look at how racist, bigoted policies can impact future decades.
Poe entered into a contract with Louisville Metro government in 2015 to complete the mapping tool and was paid $12,000, according to city records.
He presented his tool to reporters and local housing advocates during a press briefing Tuesday morning.
Cathy Hinko, executive director of the Metropolitan Housing Coalition, said the tool is a step toward “moving Louisville forward to benefit all residents.”
And Cate Fosl, director of the University of Louisville’s Anne Braden Institute of Social Justice Research, offered similar praise.
“It is exciting to see that our city is coming to terms with this difficult part of our history,” she said.
Braden and her husband, Carl, fought race-based housing policies in Louisville during the Civil Rights Movement.
The Conversation Begins
City officials aren’t looking to act in a vacuum on this, either.
In fact, they’re calling for residents to tinker with the newly released tool, educate themselves and develop ideas on overcoming the lasting impacts of redlining.
A series of public events is set over the next few months to get residents’ feedback and set the stage for a “yearlong community dialogue to gain understanding, to collect ideas and to formulate recommendations that support citizens’ wealth-creation, homeownership and development opportunities in West Louisville and other areas experiencing disinvestment,” according to a news release.
The first public meeting is set for Feb. 23 at 5:30 p.m. at the Louisville Urban League.