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How Racist Real Estate Shaped Seattle

redlining-map-seattle-all-zonesWe all know the “bad” neighborhoods. We all know the “rich” neighborhoods. So, too, did 1936 Seattle.

Much of the city we live in today was shaped by early 20th-century home loans, as you can see in this Great Depression map from the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation (HOLC). HOLC took all sorts of data from mortgage lenders, real estate appraisers, and developers and produced a clear, easy-to-understand map of credit risk and worthiness. It divided the city according to “Grades of Security.”

  • Green = “Best” (Madison Park, Laurelhurst, Seward Park)
  • Blue = “Still Desirable” (Queen Anne, most of West Seattle, Green Lake)
  • Yellow = “Definitely Declining” (Beacon Hill, Ballard, Magnolia)
  • Red = “Hazardous” (Downtown, Central District, Pioneer Square, Georgetown, Highland Park)

This map (along with the data behind it) has affected real estate rules for almost the entire last century. It clearly shows the connections between racism, economics, city administration, and development. At the time, high densities of African-American and other minority groups was enough to discourage people from living in a particular area, and so those areas often appear on this map as red, “hazardous” places.

But now, in a way that hasn’t happened in the past 100 years, gentrification is changing the Seattle landscape (just look at the demographic moving into Georgetown, for instance). This is an important change. We’re laying the groundwork for our future city, and I, for one, want a future city that’s based less on racism and inequality and much more on equality and diversity. Let’s make this next century better for everyone, Seattle!

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