Your Neighborhood is Like This on Purpose: Redlining’s Effect on New York City

An analysis of redlining’s effect on New York City with help from Organizer and Fordham University Professor Gregory Jost.

A mural near Lincoln Center in Manhattan reflects public sentiment against gentrification.

Sirajum Munira

A mural near Lincoln Center in Manhattan reflects public sentiment against gentrification.

As of 2020, New York City was the seventh most segregated city in the country. As of 2021, our schools were the most segregated in the country, full stop. This is deliberate – each New York City neighborhood, including yours, was precisely built and tailored to ensure lasting ‘hypersegregation.’ This hurts all New Yorkers, and that hurt is compounded for Black and Brown people, who are often denied quality education, housing, food, and socioeconomic mobility. A shocking amount of these disparities trace back to a Depression-era policy known as redlining.

Redlining was a discriminatory practice facilitated by a government-sponsored corporation, the Home Owners Loan Corporation or HOLC, that drew literal red lines around Black and Brown neighborhoods to signify to banks that prospective homeowners there should be denied loans. It was an explicitly racist policy that encouraged segregation and had huge ripple effects on America’s personal, social, political, economic, and infrastructural climate.


I met with Professor Gregory Jost from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Fordham University to ask about his research on redlining and its effects in the modern world. From his website, “Gregory Jost is a researcher, facilitator and organizer with expertise in the history of redlining and the Bronx and 20 years of experience in community based research, development, organizing and advocacy.”

The first thing I asked was for him to give me an abridged history of redlining. His answer was much more complicated than I expected – redlining is much more complicated than I expected – and it took a while for me to fully understand how much redlining has changed this country, and this city. The constant shifts we see in neighborhoods, the seemingly inexplicable sharp differences between blocks, the businesses and transportation systems, and garbages – all of it is related, and all of it is related to redlining. 

He explained that in 1934, around halfway through the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt passed the National Housing Act. It was a necessary piece of legislation — homeownership rates were low, and Americans were struggling to even pay rent. 

GREGORY JOST: “[Home ownership] just wasn’t something working-class people could do.”

The National Housing Act did two things – it gave Americans lower down payments and mortgage rates, and it established a practice called redlining, the first standardized risk assessment. Today, as a risk assessment, we use credit scores. If someone has a good credit score, banks are more likely to give them loans, and they can vouch for others. In the ‘30s, we didn’t have anything remotely resembling modern credit scores, so deciding who was safe to loan money to was almost entirely up to individual bankers and realtors. 

The National Housing Act ended this by creating the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC), a government-sponsored financial institution. Instead of a risk assessment based on financial stability, the HOLC chose to provide and deny loans on the basis of race. They were a bit more subtle about it, but not much. The HOLC would color code American neighborhoods down to the block based on the race of those who lived there. Red meant integrated or majority Black and Brown. Yellow was ‘Definitely Declining,’ or a neighborhood with an increasing Black and Brown population. Blue, one tier up, meant middle-class whites. Green was the highest rating, meaning middle to upper-class whites with racial covenants, which are clauses inserted into the property deals of an area banning POC from purchasing land or homes. 

GREGORY JOST: “The distinction between Green and Blue is important. You don’t get to be a Green neighborhood unless your neighborhood had racial covenants. White neighborhoods were incentivized to segregate, and a lot of them did it.”

This color coding system was used to determine housing loans. Let’s look at this specifically in New York City – those living in greenlined neighborhoods had access to fixed, low mortgage rates, and even got subsidies to move to the suburbs if they wanted. Those in blue-lined neighborhoods got most of that, but they weren’t quite as high of a priority. For red and yellow-lined neighborhoods, not only were they not a priority, there was a conscious effort to deny them loans and resources. 

Above is a slide from a presentation on Redlining and Gentrification in Ms. Kountourakis’s Race and Gender course at Bronx Science. (Acadia Bost)

Around the same time, New York City, in an effort to ‘clean up,’ launched ‘slum clearance’ or ‘urban renewal’ policies. This is still one of the largest displacement efforts that New York City has seen. Areas deemed slums, usually redlined areas experiencing landlord abuse and low government support, were condemned (legally declared unfair for use), and their residents were evicted. Those tenants were most likely never going to move back to their former neighborhoods — sometimes because the new housing built there was far too expensive, and other times simply because new housing was never built. A Tenement Museum article by Kira Garcia provides insight on this topic.

KIRA GARCIA: “Demolition and construction [were] supposed to proceed on a predetermined schedule, a process that usually took years, sometimes a decade, to complete. However, areas slated for renewal often lay vacant for years before anything was built.”

Slum clearance often didn’t ‘improve’ neighborhoods — it just took Black New Yorkers out of Black neighborhoods. With nowhere else to go, and with the Federal Housing Act spurring the creation of housing projects, many former residents moved to public housing units. Much stigma was and still is attached to public housing, and wealthy or white neighborhoods didn’t want projects near them. Green-lined neighborhoods’ restrictive covenants ‘protected’ them from being home to housing projects, and blue-lined neighborhoods often had more power to fight against new developments, which left yellow-lined and redlined neighborhoods (read: majority poor or Black neighborhoods) as the main space for project housing. 

Redlined neighborhoods were underfunded and thus already ill-equipped to provide current citizens with quality housing, education, and public services. With the creation of project housing, they had to take care of large amounts of new residents who were being displaced by slum clearance efforts in Manhattan. 

With the loan benefits provided in green-lined neighborhoods and the subsidies provided for white families buying new homes upstate, the U.S. government manufactured white flight. White flight is the term for large numbers of white people leaving racially diverse areas and moving to predominantly white suburbs. With red and yellow-lined neighborhoods torn down by urban renewal or packed with displaced residents, white New Yorkers wanted to leave, and the government was encouraging that. So they left. 

White flight had a large hand in creating the modern concept of an American suburb, and it had devastating impacts on the places white people left — neighborhoods that once received government funding, care, and social services because of the presence of their white population no longer got those services. That left these neighborhoods reeling and without support. 

Redlining harmed millions of people from the mid-1930s to the late 1960s, with activists fighting tooth and nail against it each step of the way. In 1951, the HOLC ceased operations. Redlining was officially dead. In 1968, the Fair Housing Act was passed, which made housing discrimination, specifically housing discrimination based on race, illegal. It prohibited banks and realtors from abiding by racial covenants and was supposed to end loan discrimination.

It did not. 

The FHA reduced explicit racial discrimination in housing, but redlining had already done its damage.  

RUMERKIS SOSA ’24: “Redlining brought back segregation in New York, something that the Fair Housing Act tried to fix, but that act never did anything about the segregation that [redlining] had already caused. That damage has never been repaired.”

Redlining has undoubtedly worsened segregation and poverty in New York City, but it also had impacts that we see in our own neighborhoods every day. Those issues include the struggles we watch neighbors and possibly ourselves go through with housing, disparities in schooling, disparities in health, distribution of banks and fast food restaurants, and the bodega down the street that you saw every day until one day, you didn’t. 

Although all issues related to racism and classism are deeply complex, examining redlining’s part in creating modern neighborhoods is worthwhile in building a better understanding of why, exactly, New York City is the way it is. 


Redlining had a huge impact on our likelihood to rent or own homes. Today, white homeownership rates are 30% higher than Black homeownership rates, at 74% and 44% respectively according to CNN. Many argue that this disparity has been reinforced by redlining since one of its core tenants was that only white homeowners would get low interest rates and down payments. 

Homeownership, sadly, isn’t an isolated impact. Since most public schools are funded by property taxes, the quality of particular schools can also be tied back to redlining. An article by the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Education Policy’s director, Lindsey M. Burke, and Research Associate and Project Coordinator, Jude Schwalbach, elaborates on this idea.

BURKE AND SCHWALBACH: “Redlining had an effect on access to credit [as well as on] where people could live… Because where families live determines what public schools their children attend … families living in “hazardous” [redlined] areas were often zoned to underperforming schools… The ripple effects on education are still felt today… Too often, there appears to be a strong similarity between 1930s-era redlining maps and the [zoning] boundaries within school district borders.”

There’s no denying that redlining deepened New York City segregation, and knowing that, it’s hard not to draw lines to current school segregation. Segregated neighborhoods formed after the HOLC redlining maps still owe some of their creation to white flight and infrastructure disparities from the maps. 


Proximity to banks and grocery stores can have a huge impact on someone’s financial security. Sadly, if not unexpectedly, formerly redlined neighborhoods often have less of both of those. Gregory Jost explained the community importance of banks in the 60s and 70s.

GREGORY JOST: “It was a different era of banking, banks were much more local institutions. You could do a demonstration at a bank and get a meeting with the CEO that day. People wanted banks in their neighborhoods.” 

Nowadays, banks are very different. but they’re still a key aspect of a person’s financial system. Banks can help a person build wealth – they provide access to financial counseling and services. But when people don’t have banks, they rely on alternative financial institutions. 

Fordham University Adjunct Professor Gregory Jost is pictured lecturing in front of a poster on the modern impacts of redlining. (Photo provided by Gregory Jost)

GREGORY JOST: “Ask people – do you have a bank branch in your neighborhood? Do you have a check casher? Which is easier to get to? That’s a visible sign of redlining. Check cashers and pawn shops, they’re part of what we call alternative financial institutions. We have lots of them in the Bronx. In fact, we have the highest ratio of alternative financial services to bank branches in the country. And they will nickel and dime you every step of the way.”

The lack of banks in formerly redlined areas curbs residents from building wealth and creating financial stability for themselves and their families. But bank access isn’t an isolated impact – it also relates to food access, as Jost explains.

GREGORY JOST: “Oftentimes, credit unions – you know where they have access to ATMs? In McDonald’s. So, in neighborhoods that were redlined, that have those alternative financial institutions, we have ATMs in McDonald’s because we don’t have ATMs in banks.”

Poor neighborhoods have a higher concentration of Delis and Bodegas regardless of population, but a lower concentration of big box stores or larger stores with a wider variety of goods. This ties us to the concept of food apartheid and food swamps. Food apartheids, also referred to as food deserts, are areas with little to no access to grocery stores and general food, whereas food swamps are areas with a disproportionately high concentration of fast food restaurants. Often, formerly redlined neighborhoods have lower concentrations of quality grocery stores, but higher concentrations of chains like McDonalds. 

Experts have tied this food access closely to poor health outcomes in lower-income neighborhoods. 


Redlining didn’t just impact our neighborhoods and wealth – it also changed how we vote. Gerrymandering, or manipulating the borders of a district to favor one party or class (or race), is a political tactic used by lawmakers to silence voters. This is done in either the form of ‘packing’ (lumping “undesirable” voters into one district even when that doesn’t make sense geographically) or ‘cracking’ (breaking up “undesirable” voters so they’re separated and drowned out within every new district they’re a part of). The Legal reader author Dawn Allen ties gerrymandering to long-gone redlining policies.

DAWN ALLEN: “Even after [redlining] was officially outlawed by the Fair Housing Act of 1968, people were still stuck in houses and neighborhoods they couldn’t afford to leave… Lines of segregation are still visible today. This effect is rather convenient, however, for those who seek to disenfranchise certain demographics [through] Gerrymandering…”

Gerrymandering means that even if the majority of people vote for a certain candidate, because of the districts voters have been separated into, that candidate could still lose! White politicians have used this tactic to silence Black voices for decades, and it’s one of many reasons we don’t see enough people of color in elected office. 

Bronx Science is nested between formerly blue-lined and formerly yellow-lined neighborhoods. The area around our school is heavily impacted by redlining – the harm this policy did specifically to the Bronx is difficult to even quantify, extending from interpersonal prejudice against some Bronx neighborhoods to lack of access to healthy food and good financial services. 

People like Gregory Jost are fighting the impacts of redlining, but the fact of the matter is, the echoes of this policy will live in our city’s buildings for a long time. Our city is the way it is in part due to redlining; that was the point of the policy. The segregation and inequity we see was manufactured. Our city, your neighborhood, it’s all like this on purpose.

Although all issues related to racism and classism are deeply complex, examining redlining’s part in creating modern neighborhoods is worthwhile in building a better understanding of why, exactly, New York City is the way it is.