These Maps Document The History Of Housing Discrimination In Los Angeles


While Los Angeles has made gains in its history as a racially segregated metropolis, any resident knows that we still have a long way to go. These maps drawn by the federal government from 1939 illustrate just how institutionalized segregation in Los Angeles was, and the legacy it has left on the city today.

In 1933, in the midst of the Great Depression, the federal government established the Home Owners' Loan Corporation as part of the New Deal in order to help American homeowners who had defaulted on their mortgages. One of their practices, however, was what we now call "redlining," where residents in less-desirable neighborhoods were given less access to financial services to relieve their burden of debt.

As seen in the maps above, less-desirable neighborhoods were coded with red, with slightly more desirable areas in yellow, and the more desirable areas in blue and then green, denoting the most desirable. The red areas weren't even necessarily neighborhoods with high rates of mortgage default, but often areas of high minority or foreign-born populations.

"They didn't want Jews, Mexicans are even worse, and they certainly don’t want blacks or Chinese," USC history professor Philip J. Ethington told Los Angeles Magazine. "The idea was that if you find these people in a neighborhood, the decline must have already happened."

As a testament to the lasting power of this institutional discrimination, many of the redlined areas on these decades-old maps fit our preconceived notions of racial and economic segregation across Los Angeles today. Most of the urban core is colored red and yellow, while posh areas like the Hollywood Hills, Westwood and Hancock Park are blue and green. It's interesting to note that a significant portion of Santa Monica and West Los Angeles are mostly red and yellow on these maps.

"These residential decisions had decades-long consequences," Nathan Connolly, an urban historian at Johns Hopkins University, told National Geographic. "So much of the wealth inequality that exists in America is driven by inequality in real estate market and the ability to generate equity and pass it down from one generation to the next."

Connolly is part of an effort (with academics from Johns Hopkins, the University of Richmond, Virginia Tech and the University of Maryland) to digitize and collect these maps at an easily browsable site called Mapping Inequality: Redlining In New Deal America. Over at Mapping Inequality, you can browse maps at several cities across America, and even read contemporaneous notes, like one from a central neighborhood of Witchita that reads, "Property in the area is poor, shacky, and typical of negro properties."

High-definition scans (warning: they are big) of individual maps are made available by Virginia Tech assistant professor of history LaDale Winling (who also collaborated on the project) at his site urbanoasis.org.

Data artist Josh Begley has also taken the data from HOLC maps and overlaid them on Google Maps: