Much of the city we live in today was shaped by racist housing policies in early 20th century. In a practice called redlining, lenders would literally draw a red line around a neighborhood on a map and then refuse to give home loans in that area on the grounds that such loans were too risky. The reason for that “risk”? Race. High densities of African-American and other minority groups appeared on these maps as red, “hazardous” places. If you were a person of color and wanted to buy a house, no one would give you a loan. The Federal Housing Administration explicitly refused to back loans to black people or other people who lived near black people.
The Great Depression-era map from the Home Owner’s Loan Corporation (HOLC) shows redlining in action.
Redlining both prevented minorities from owning homes and confined them to renting in red neighborhoods. In Seattle, red areas included Downtown, Central District, Pioneer Square, Georgetown, and Highland Park.
Meanwhile, white neighborhoods reinforced that racism by adding local-level discrimination of their own. In Capitol Hill, for instance, homeowners went door to door and convinced other white residents to sign a covenant not to sell or rent to people of “negro Blood.” By 1947, those covenants covered 183 blocks around the neighborhood.
Using research conducted by the University of Washington, The Seattle Times complied a list of other such covenants found in various Seattle neighborhoods:
- Greenwood: “No person or persons of Asiatic, African, or Negro blood, lineage or extraction.”
- South Lake City: “No person of African, Japanese, Chinese, or of any other Mongolian descent.”
- Ballard/Sunset Hills: No “Hebrew or … any person of the Ethiopian, Malay or any Asiatic Race.”
- Magnolia: “No person or persons of Asiatic, African or Negro blood, lineage or extraction.”
- Beacon Hill: “No person other than the Caucasian race.”
- Bellevue: “No person of African, Japanese, Chinese, or of any other Mongolian descent.”
- Sammamish: No “person of the Malay or any Asiatic race or descent, or any person of the races commonly known as the Negro races, or of their descent.”
- White Center: No “Hebrew or … any person of the Ethiopian, Malay or any Asiatic Race.”
The Fair Housing Act of 1968 outlawed redlining and other race-based housing discrimination, but the impacts have stayed. The red areas of the 1930s are still today’s impoverished, minority-dominated neighborhoods. And although legal discrimination has been outlawed, housing and banking is still far from equal.
“The history of racial restrictive covenants and racial segregation, while generally forgotten, is an immensely important aspect of Seattle’s past,” the UW study concludes. “It has left its mark on all Seattle neighborhoods and has shaped the demographics of Seattle’s residential neighborhoods.”