Rent prices in top cities are down “substantially” compared to last year — especially in San Francisco, according to Realtor.com.
City landlords are slashing rent prices to attract tenants as they lose renters to cheaper, quieter suburbs during the coronavirus pandemic. In the most dramatic cities studio rent prices fell 31% compared to last year, according to Realtor.com’s September rent prices report.
“This is likely a reflection of people with flexibility, like renters, choosing to relocate elsewhere or even possibly move in with friends and family to save money in a period of economic uncertainty, with flexibility that changes like remote work have allowed them to move elsewhere to places that are more affordable,” said Danielle Hale, chief economist at Realtor.com.
San Francisco rent prices were the hardest-hit by the pandemic as big tech companies in Silicon Valley required or allowed workers to work remotely — first during lockdowns, and then long-term, in many cases.
The median studio apartment in San Francisco is going for 31% less than it did last year, now only $2,285. One bedroom apartments cost 24.2% less than last year at only $2,873 a month (the first time they’ve ever hit under $3,000, according to Zumper, a San Francisco-based listing company). In nearby San Mateo, Santa Clara and Alameda rents dropped 9%-19%. Rents were less volatile for larger apartments, the Realtor.com study found.
But almost two hours outside San Francisco in Sacramento, rent prices are actually rising 10%-16%. Sacramento was the top out-of-metro location where Bay area renters searched for apartments year-to-date, according to Zumper’s 2020 migration report. Sacramento was also tied as the sixth most common migration destination in the country, according to Opendoor, a San Francisco-based iBuyer that operates in Sacramento and 20 other markets.
“People from the Bay area may be moving to Sacramento if they don’t have to commute into the office every day,” said Hale.
Pushing for occupancy before seasonal slowdown
Rent prices dropped significantly in major cities all across the country, plummeting up to 15% for studio apartments in places like New York City, Pittsburgh, Boston and Honolulu, and 12% in Seattle, according to Realtor.com. Rent cuts were less steep for one-bedrooms, between 7% and 12% in most cities.
“Apartment owners are pushing to get occupancy as high as possible before leasing activity suffers the seasonal slowdown that occurs during the cold weather months,” said a statement by Greg Willett, chief economist of RealPage, a Texas-based property management software company. “In some cases, they are cutting rents in an attempt to capture bigger shares of total demand.”
Meanwhile, rent rose in unlikely places such as Tulsa, Okla., which had a staggering 36% hike in studio rent increases. Rent in suburbs that many Americans have never heard of, like Hillsboro, Fla., Montgomery, Pa. and Essex, N.J., rose about 19%-29%.
“Even prior to the pandemic, there was a movement from larger metros to smaller metros…,” said Odeta Kushi, deputy chief economist for First American Financial Corporation, a California-based title insurance, settlement services and risk solutions company. “This trend has been accelerated by the pandemic as younger households look for more space and are increasingly able to work from home.”
New single-family home sales surged in July, as housing demand was supported by low interest rates, a renewed consumer focus on the importance of housing, and rising demand in lower-density markets like suburbs and exurbs.
Census and HUD estimated new home sales in July at a 901,000 seasonally adjusted annual pace, an approximate 14% gain over June and the strongest seasonally adjusted annual rate since the end of 2006. The April data (570,000 annualized pace) marks the low point of sales for the current recession. The April rate was 26% lower than the prior peak, pre-recession rate set in January.
The gains for new home sales are consistent with the NAHB/Wells Fargo HMI, which equaled a data series high in August, demonstrating that housing is the leading sector for the economy. Consider that despite double-digit unemployment, new home sales are estimated to be 8% higher for the first seven months of 2020 compared to the first seven months of 2019.
Sales-adjusted inventory levels declined again, falling to a just a 4 months’ supply in July, the lowest since 2013. This factor points to additional construction gains ahead. The count of completed, ready-to-occupy new homes is just 61,000 homes nationwide. Total inventory declined almost 9% year-over-year, with inventory down to 299,000.
Moreover, sales are increasingly coming from homes that have not started construction, with that count up 34% year-over-year. In contrast, sales of completed, ready-to-occupy homes are down almost 24%. These measures point to continued gains for single-family construction ahead.
Thus far in 2020, new home sales are higher in all regions. Sales on a year-to-date basis are 5% higher in the South, 9% in the West, 20% in the Midwest, and 22% higher in the Northeast.
New single-family home sales jumped in June, as housing demand was supported by low interest rates, a renewed consumer focus on the importance of housing, and rising demand in lower-density markets like suburbs and exurbs.
Census and HUD estimated new home sales in June at a 776,000 seasonally adjusted annual pace, a 14% gain over May and the strongest seasonally adjusted annual rate since the Great Recession. The April data (571,000 annualized pace) marks the low point of sales for the current recession. The April rate was 26% lower than the prior peak, pre-recession rate set in January.
The gains for new home sales are consistent with the NAHB/Wells Fargo HMI, which returned to pre-recession highs and demonstrates that housing will be a leading sector in an emerging economic recovery. Consider that despite double-digit unemployment, new home sales are estimated to be 3.2% higher through for the first half of 2020, compared to the first half of 2019.
Moreover, pricing firmed in June, with median new home price expanding to $329,200. However, headwinds remain, including elevated unemployment and surging lumber prices, which exceeded their 2018 peak this week.
Sales-adjusted inventory levels declined again, falling to a 4.7 months’ supply in June, the lowest since 2016. This factor points to additional construction gains ahead. The count of completed, ready-to-occupy new homes is just 69,000 homes nationwide. Inventory (including homes available for sale that have not started construction or are under construction) is 7% lower than a year ago.
Thus far in 2020, new home sales are higher in all regions. Sales on a year-to-date basis are 0.2% higher in the South, 3.1% in the West, 12.6% in the Midwest, and 22% higher in the Northeast.
Housing Starts Miss Expectations as Permits Rebound Strongly
U.S. homebuilding increased less than expected in May, but a strong rebound in permits for future home construction suggested the housing market was starting to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis along with the broader economy.
Other data on Wednesday showed applications for loans to buy a home surged to a near 11-1/2-year high last week.
“Housing is a leading economic indicator and it is pointing the way forward but there is a limit to growth when the economy has to drag along the millions and millions of unemployed workers displaced in this pandemic recession who won’t be seeing paychecks anytime soon,” said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York.
Housing starts rose 4.3% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 974,000 units last month, the Commerce Department said. That compared with the median forecast of 1.1 million.
Starts declined 26.4% in April and 19.0% in March. They dropped 23.2% on a year-on-year basis in May.
Single-family homebuilding, which accounts for the largest share of the housing market, edged up 0.1% to a rate of 675,000 units in May. Starts for the volatile multi-family housing segment jumped 15.0% to a pace of 299,000 units.
Homebuilding fell in the Midwest and the populous South. It rose in the West and Northeast.
Permits for future home construction rebounded 14.4% to a rate of 1.220 million units in May, reinforcing economists’ expectations that the housing market will lead the economy from the recession that started in February, driven by historically low mortgage rates.
Though the housing market accounts for about 3.3% of gross domestic product, it has a larger footprint on the economy.
Mortgage applications have climbed back above pre-COVID-19 levels.
Signs of recovery in the housing market were underscored by a survey of Tuesday showing single-family homebuilders very upbeat in June about conditions in the industry. Builders reported increased demand for single-family homes in lower density neighborhoods.
But with nearly 20 million unemployed and a resurgence of COVID-19 infections in some parts of the country, the housing market is not out of the woods yet.
Single-family building permits increased 11.9% to a rate of 745,000 units in May. Permits for multi-family units surged 18.8% to a rate of 475,000 units.
As the economic carnage from the coronavirus pandemic continues, a long-forbidden word is starting to creep onto people’s lips: “depression.”
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, there was no commonly accepted word for a slowdown in the economy. “Panic” was the term typically used for financial crises, while long slumps were commonly called depressions. Presidents such as James Monroe and Calvin Coolidge used the d-word to describe downturns during their administrations. There was even a slump in the 1870s that many referred to as the Great Depression at the time.
But then 1929 came, and there was no longer any doubt as to which depression deserved the modifier “great.” The crash hit the entire world, reducing economic output 15%. And it ground on mercilessly for years — by 1933, unemployment in the U.S. was at 25%. The Great Depression was so severe that governments permanently expanded their role in the economy.
Since the 1930s, economists and commentators have used the word “recession” to describe economic slumps, and none of them have been nearly as severe as the Great Depression. The only time this convention was really challenged was after the financial crisis of 2008. The global nature of the downturn, sparked by troubles in the financial industry, led many to draw parallels with the Great Depression. In the end, the term “Great Recession” stuck.
The economic damage from coronavirus, however, threatens to dwarf the 2008 downturn. More than 22 million people, or about 13% of the U.S. labor force, have already filed for unemployment:
Current forecasts are for the unemployment rate to reach 20% this month. Some predict it could go as high as 30% this year. That would eclipse even the Great Depression in severity.
So if severity alone is the criteria for a depression, this one will certainly deserve the moniker. President Ronald Reagan once quipped that “recession is when your neighbor loses his job; depression is when you lose yours.” There will be few people whose economic livelihoods are not hurt by the coronavirus.
But there are other possible criteria for deciding what gets labeled a depression. Besides severity, there’s duration; both the 1870s and the 1930s saw a decade of economic pain. Many hope that the economy will bounce back from the coronavirus in a so-called V-shaped recovery. It stands to reason that if the economy crashed because it was intentionally turned off by mandatory shutdowns, then letting people out of their houses will turn it back on.
Many of the economic relief measures now being implemented, such as the Paycheck Protection Program — which extends loans to small and medium-sized businesses that are forgiven if they retain their workers — have this sort of quick restart in mind. But while that’s a good idea, there are reasons to believe this downturn will not be over quickly.
First, there’s evidence that the main reason people are staying at home is not lockdowns but the threat of the virus itself. Data from online restaurant-reservation websites shows that in major cities, most of the decline in restaurant attendance happened before stay-at-home orders were issued. And polls indicate that most Americans are very wary of returning to their normal activities. This means that unless virus suppression regimes give people confidence that coronavirus isn’t a threat to their personal safety, they’re unlikely to come out and shop even if the government says there’s no need to worry. Because effective treatments probably won’t be available at least until the fall or later, that means many more months of business devastation except in the few competent and lucky places that get test-and-trace systems in place.
Next, there’s the global nature of the downturn. Gross domestic product is set to decline in almost every country. Some forecasters expect all economies to bounce back simultaneously, but a more likely scenario is that many countries will struggle to recover. That will hurt both U.S. export markets and international investors for years to come.
Finally, there’s the possibility of long-term financial market turmoil. In addition to severity and duration, a third common criterion for distinguishing depressions from recessions is that the former involves years of financial industry dysfunction and declines in lending.
The Federal Reserve is struggling mightily to preserve the solvency of U.S. banks and prop up asset markets, and so far it has succeeded. Interest rates are low, bank failures have not been widespread and stock markets have partly recovered:
But keeping banks on a government lifeline during years of business weakness, although better than the alternative of letting the financial system collapse, might still not equip the financial industry to do its traditional job of lending to productive enterprises. The threat of repeated coronavirus outbreaks, along with continued business failures, may make banks just as afraid to lend as they were after 2008.
Although the U.S. government can and should do its utmost to ensure that the coronavirus recession doesn’t check all the boxes for a depression, its powers to stop both the virus and the international slowdown are limited. Let’s hope this depression won’t last a decade, but an unprecedented slump followed by years of pain seems inevitable.
Megabank raises lending standards amid economic struggles to protect themselves
As the country struggles through the economic impact of the coronavirus, numerous mortgage companies have raised their lending standards to protect both borrowers and themselves. Now, one of the largest mortgage lenders in the country is joining that list.
JPMorgan Chase this week is increasing its minimum lending standards to require nearly all borrowers to have at least 20% down in order to buy a home. Beyond that, Chase is also raising its minimum FICO credit score to 700 on purchase mortgages.
Put simply, if a borrower doesn’t have a 20% down payment and a FICO score of 700 or above, they will likely not be able get a loan from Chase to buy a home. According to Chase, those lending standards also apply to refinances on non-Chase mortgages.
The bank will still move forward with refis under its previous lending standards if the loan is either serviced by Chase or in Chase’s portfolio, but for all other refis, it’s 700 FICO or look somewhere else.
It should be noted that the changes do not apply to Chase’s DreaMaker mortgage program, which makes loans available for low-to-moderate income borrowers with as little as 3% down and reduced mortgage insurance requirements.
According to Chase, the changes will allow the bank to spend more time on the loans it is working on and do the appropriate verifications to ensure the loan is the right move for all involved.
“Due to the economic uncertainty, we are making temporary changes that will allow us to more closely focus on serving our existing customers,” Chase Home Lending Chief Marketing Officer Amy Bonitatibus said in a statement.
With the changes, Chase becomes the latest lender to tighten its lending standards. Certain segments of the business, including government, non-QM, and jumbo loans, have dried up substantially as lenders pull back from loans that are seen as riskier than conventional loans. But as the crisis continues, lenders are beginning to change their conventional lending standards as well.
United Wholesale Mortgage, the second-biggest mortgage lender in the country, recently announced that it will require reverification of a borrower’s employment on the day their loan is scheduled to close. The purpose of that move is to ensure that borrowers are actually still employed when their mortgage closes.
“If people don’t have a job, I’m not going to put them in a bad position,” UWM CEO Mat Ishbia told his employees last week. “By doing this, we’re protecting borrowers, the company, and the country.”
But UWM wasn’t the only one making employment verification changes as COVID-19 pushes layoffs to record levels in the U.S. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac recently announced that they changed the age of document requirements for most income and asset documentation from four months to two months. What that means is all income and asset documentation must be dated no more than 60 days from the date of the mortgage note.
The bottom line of all these changes is lenders are attempting to protect themselves and borrowers from getting into a mortgage that is not in the borrower’s or lender’s best interest.
And despite Chase being the biggest name to make changes like these so far, it likely won’t be the last lender to do so.
The changes to Chase’s lending policies were first reported by Reuters.
Homeowners in Italy are seeing many of their bills suspended – including mortgages – as the country deals with the coronavirus pandemic, and now other European nations are considering similar moves.
Is a “mortgage holiday” coming to America?
The short answer is: probably not. Most American mortgages are packaged into bonds with legal terms that dictate what the servicers who handle the billing can and can’t do. There are ways servicers can offer forbearance – an agreement to let borrowers either pay at a lower interest rate or suspend payments temporarily because of a hardship. But it’s on a case-by-case basis.
“Somebody owns those bonds,” said Mark Vitner, a senior economist with Wells Fargo. “Who is going to make those interest payments?”
Any missed or reduced payments typically have to be repaid, with interest. Sometimes, that means the loan will be re-amortized, so whatever you don’t pay now, you’ll be paying off over the remaining years of your loan, with interest.
America’s mortgage market is much bigger than Italy’s $423 billion of outstanding home-loan debt. The U.S. has about $11 trillion of mortgages on one- to four-family homes, according to Federal Reserve data. More than half of that is contained in bonds compiled and backed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
The Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees those government-controlled mortgage securitizers, issued a directive last week urging servicers to offer help to people who fall behind on mortgage payments because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“To meet the needs of borrowers who may be impacted by the coronavirus, last week Fannie Mae and FreddieMac reminded mortgage servicers that hardship forbearance is an option for borrowers who are unable to make their monthly mortgage payment,” said FHFA Director Mark Calabria. “For borrowers that may be experiencing a hardship, I encourage you to reach out to your servicer.”
In addition, regulators such as the Federal Reserve on Tuesday urged U.S. banks such as Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase to work “constructively” with borrowers affected by the coronavirus outbreak, promising they won’t get dinged by examiners as long as the measures show good judgment.
Italy has been the nation with the biggest outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, outside of China. Italy has more than 15,000 cases, and more than 1,000 people have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.
While Italy is the only government to introduce a plan to suspend mortgage payments for people affected by the lockdown – and so far it’s only for the worst-hit areas of the nation – other European countries may follow suit, according to an S&P report.
“New monetary and fiscal stimulus measures are currently being launched daily and the Italian government is contemplating broadening the mortgage payment suspension scheme nationwide,” S&P said.
“Some banks and governments in other countries, including France, Spain, and the U.K., have mooted similar measures, although the potential scale of eligibility and level of uptake among borrowers could vary widely and are not yet known,” the report said.
The minority homeownership rate increased to 48.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019, up 0.8 percentage points from the fourth quarter of 2018, according to a new data release from the Census Bureau’s Housing Vacancies and Homeownership survey (CPS/HVS) (Figure 1). This is the highest it has been since the third quarter of 2011 (48.9 percent). This year-over-year gain is higher than the gain in the overall U.S. homeownership rate, which rose 0.3 percentage points to 65.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019 (a six-year high). A separate Eyeonhousing.org post covers the U.S. homeownership rate in more detail.
Breaking down the minority homeownership rate shows that the Hispanic homeownership rate gained the most in the fourth quarter, with a 1.2 percentage point increase to 48.1 percent (from 46.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2018).
The black homeownership rate posted the second largest gain of 1.0 percentage points to reach 44.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019 (from 43.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2018). This is the largest quarter gain in the black homeownership rate since the first quarter of 2017.
Meanwhile, Other households (Asian, Pacific-Islander, Native American, and other race households) experienced a decline in their homeownership rate, dropping 1.0 percentage points to 57.1 percent (from 58.1 percent in the third quarter of 2019). The Other homeownership rate has now declined for four consecutive quarters (year-over-year declines), which is in contrast to strong gains seen for this group between the second quarter of 2017 and the third quarter of 2018.
The white homeownership grew by only 0.1 percentage points to 73.7 percent in the fourth quarter (from 73.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2018). The white homeownership rate has not declined year-over-year since the first quarter of 2017 (Figure 2).
Mortgage rates are still relatively low, and a healthy job market has helped to make homeownership more affordable. In fact, housing affordability was at a three-year high in the third quarter of 2019, according to the National Association of Home Builders’ Housing Opportunity Index (HOI). These factors are most likely contributing to the recent upticks in the overall and minority homeownership rates.
“Rates fell to the lowest level in three months and are about a quarter point above all-time lows,” said Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s Chief Economist. “The very low rate environment has clearly had an impact on the housing market as both new construction and home sales have surged in response to the decline in rates, the rebound in the economy and improving financial market sentiment.”
30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.60 percent with an average 0.8 point for the week ending January 23, 2020, down from last week when it averaged 3.65 percent. A year ago at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 4.45 percent.
15-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 3.04 percent with an average 0.8 point, down from last week when it averaged 3.09 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.88 percent.
Average commitment rates should be reported along with average fees and points to reflect the total upfront cost of obtaining the mortgage. Visit the following link for the Definitions. Borrowers may still pay closing costs which are not included in the survey.
Freddie Mac makes home possible for millions of families and individuals by providing mortgage capital to lenders. Since our creation by Congress in 1970, we’ve made housing more accessible and affordable for homebuyers and renters in communities nationwide. We are building a better housing finance system for homebuyers, renters, lenders, investors and taxpayers.
“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” penned poet and activist Audre Lorde. Pulled from a 1984 essay, the quote summarizes her larger argument that mainstream academic frameworks are incapable of permitting the disruption of their own status quo. “They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change,” wrote Lorde.
Over the last few months, several Democratic presidential hopefuls—namely Sen. Kamala Harris (Calif.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), and South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg—have released housing proposals that utilize a curious vector to implement their respective remedies for historical discrimination: redlining maps.
Redlining was the practice of outlining areas with sizable Black populations in red ink on maps as a warning to mortgage lenders, effectively isolating Black people in areas that would suffer lower levels of investment than their white counterparts. The Democratic candidates hope that the contours of these old maps—once used by the government-sponsored Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) from 1933 to 1977—offer the blueprint for closing the racial homeownership gap and increasing prosperity among largely Black and Brown Americans who were robbed of wealth for generations under redlining’s legal discriminatory policy.
Redlining was the practice of outlining areas with sizable Black populations in red ink on maps as a warning to mortgage lenders, effectively isolating Black people in areas that would suffer lower levels of investment than their white counterparts.
In each plan, redlining maps are used to determine eligibility for beneficiaries, to differing degrees:
Harris’s plan would invest $100 billion in assistance for down payments and closing costs, to be made available to those who have lived in government or rental housing for 10 or more preceding years in a formerly redlined area that is low-to-moderate income today. Grantees must also earn less than a maximum annual family income.
Warren’s plan would offer down payment assistance to first-time homebuyers in formerly redlined areas or low-income areas that experienced other forms of legal segregation, qualifying them for a grant applicable to a home anywhere in the country. The proposal is billed as a “first step towards closing the racial wealth gap,” and would be paid for by an estate tax.
Mayor Buttigieg’s plan proposes the Community Homestead Act, which would purchase abandoned properties in select cities and allow residents to acquire them. Eligible grantees include residents who earned less than the area median income over the last five years and either have resided in the area for at least three years, or have resided in any historically redlined or racially segregated area for at least three years.
However, based on our analysis of who lives in these formerly redlined districts today, Lorde’s quote should be considered when it comes to these proposed remedies.
The University of Richmond’s Mapping Inequality project has digitized scans of the HOLC redlining maps held in the National Archives. Examination of the maps, numbering over 200, reveals that approximately 11 million Americans (10,852,727) live in once-redlined areas, according to the latest population data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey (2017). This population is majority-minority but not majority-Black, and, contrary to conventional perceptions, Black residents also do not form a plurality in these areas overall. The Black population share is approximately 28%, ranking third among the racial groups who live in formerly redlined areas, behind white and Latino or Hispanic residents.
While still a tremendously large population, the approximately 3 million Black residents in redlined areas account for just 8% of all non-Latino or Hispanic Black Americans. Given the demographic shifts that have occurred since the federal government started using color-coded maps to assess mortgage risk, and the relatively small share of the Black population currently living in these areas, proposals that center on these past tools to redress discrimination probably won’t “dismantle the master’s house.”
THE PAST STILL HAUNTS US
Together with racially restrictive housing covenants that prohibited Black Americans from buying certain properties, redlining prevented generations of families from gaining equity in homeownership or making improvements to homes already owned. These unjust practices form part of a long history of discrimination, which has contributed to the disparities in homeownership and wealth still observed between the Black and white populations of the country today.
Redlined neighborhoods are generally located near the center of urban areas, where Black people were concentrated when the government generated the maps used today for the Harris, Warren, and Buttigieg proposals. But since then, transformational demographic shifts have spread different populations throughout metropolitan areas and increased the size of those areas overall. To assess the relative residual social patterns across redlined communities today, we compare the aggregate of the census block groups that fall within the redlined areas of each city to the remaining non-redlined areas in the same cities, and measure ways the two areas differ.
These localized comparisons show that in cities with a history of redlining, the redlined areas today generally remain more segregated and more economically disadvantaged, with higher Black and minority shares of population than the remainder of the city. Additionally, they have lower median household income, lower home values, older housing stock, and rents which are lower in absolute terms (but often higher as a percentage of income). Similar studies have confirmed these trends for other social characteristics, as well as a clear correlation showing more positive current-day outcomes for areas that were “greenlined.”
The selected characteristics in the group of the ten most populous redlined areas diverge less sharply than in the remaining smaller areas, suggesting that for smaller areas, the residual effects of redlining are perhaps felt more clearly.
This top-heavy slant of the population distribution poses an issue for policymakers who wish to use HOLC maps to address the legacy of past discrimination, as it is not the case that half of the homeownership and wealth gaps can be attributed to disparities among Black and white residents of those ten cities alone. Furthermore, Black-majority suburbs are on the rise, which are heavily underrepresented in HOLC maps due to their focus on urban centers.
WHO NOW LIVES IN ONCE-REDLINED AREAS?
In some places, redlined areas track with conventional perceptions. For example, in Birmingham, Ala., the redlined portion has a much higher concentration of Black residents than the rest of the city, as well as lower incomes and property values. Formerly redlined Birmingham is majority-Black, and a large share of the Black citizens of Birmingham reside in formerly redlined areas.
The racial history of Birmingham is one of sustained aggression against the Black population. The persistence of demographic patterns in formerly redlined Birmingham is a testament to informal and formal enforcement of spatial placement by local, state and private forces. In cities throughout the South with a similar demographic makeup and history of racial violence, policies of targeted assistance in redlined areas could prove useful in closing the local racial homeownership and wealth disparities. However, at the regional and city level across the country, we find wide variations in the demographic makeup of who lives in formerly redlined areas (both in absolute numbers and relative to the cities in which they are found).
Some redlined areas have a lower Black share of population than the rest of the city
Theoretically, if the effects of redlining had faded completely over time, demographics and socio-economic outcomes between redlined areas and the surrounding city would be indistinguishable. Of course, this is not the case, but the degree to which the Black versus non-Black population of a given redlined area matches the area around it varies greatly across cities. Of the 174 principal cities in the comparison, 114 showed a statistically significantly higher concentration of Black population in the redlined areas than the rest of the city. In 26 more, the concentration was higher but not statistically significant.
Six of the 34 cities which inverted this trend (a redlined area with a lower Black share of the population than the rest of the city) are among those 10 large cities which are home to half the redlined population: Detroit, Baltimore, Milwaukee, Boston, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia. Each of the six have sizeable Black populations, and Black people form the largest racial group in Detroit, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. And despite a demographic shift, the redlined portions of these cities still exhibit negative economic outcomes.
Clearly, these areas have suffered from a legacy of divestment, and deserve attention from policymakers. But a strategy to close the racial wealth gap that focuses mainly on these now-diversified locations risks overlooking Black neighborhoods elsewhere.
Some redlined areas, especially in the West, have a small Black population relative to white or Latino or Hispanic residents
Los Angeles is home to the third-most populous formerly redlined area, encircling over 620,000 people. Today, 70% of this group is Latino or Hispanic, 12% is white, and 6% is Black.
In 1930, nine years before the HOLC map was produced, census data showed that the whole city’s population was 88% white, 8% Mexican (the closest proxy to the Latino or Hispanic population from the time), and 2% Black. Even so, language from the original HOLC map makes explicit reference to Black neighborhoods. An excerpt from a map encompassing today’s central Los Angeles neighborhood of Jefferson Park derisively writes:
This is the “melting pot” area of Los Angeles, and has long been thoroughly blighted. The Negro concentration is largely in the eastern two thirds of the area. Original construction was evidently of fair quality but lack of proper maintenance is notable. Population is uniformly of poor quality and many improvements are in a state of dilapidation. This area is a fit location for a slum clearance project. The area is accorded a “low red” grade.
While redlined areas in Los Angeles largely did and still do encompass far more Latino or Hispanic residents than Black residents, property appraisals and neighborhood assessments were constantly undertaken from a distinctly anti-Black point of view. However, the demographic reality of redlined Los Angeles today means that policies implemented here to close the Black homeownership gap would miss the target population. Of course, the country experiences a Latino or Hispanic homeownership gap as well, which merits intentional consideration from policymakers. But Latino or Hispanic Americans should not be merely an incidental benefactor of policy directed at addressing historic discrimination against Black people.
Some redlined areas are too small to be a useful target for policy
Dallas is a city with a long history of intense discrimination. Today, Dallas remains segregated along lines of race and income, but the HOLC map is surprisingly small. In the 80 years since the map was drawn, the city has grown five-fold. Today, the city of Dallas hosts over 1.3 million residents (including roughly 300,000 Black residents) but has a redlined population of just over 28,000. Policies to address redlining specifically would have little effect on racial homeownership and wealth disparities in Dallas.
Washington, D.C. is noticeably absent from discussions of redlining. The reason is simple, and reveals one of the most intractable problems with using these maps to guide policy implementation: We simply do not have any record of a redlining map drawn for 1930s Washington. While it is difficult to imagine the District—long known as “Chocolate City”—being spared from a nationwide effort targeting Black residents, it is not hard to find examples of place-based discrimination that happened in the nation’s capital in the 20th century and continue today. Discriminatory lending at the local level does not require a federally commissioned map, but it helps.
If the 2020 presidential candidates and other federal policymakers wish to close the homeownership and wealth gaps, efforts cannot be considered complete without including the city of Washington. Without a map to guide them, a new system must be devised for implementing policy there. And if that can be accomplished for Washington, then it can be accomplished nationwide.
Other places which display this pattern: all but some 200 cities nationwide, including nearly every suburb and rural area.
ONCE-REDLINED AREAS ARE NO LONGER A PROXY FOR BLACK AMERICA
Redlining was a federally created—but locally implemented—form of discrimination. As such, redlined areas, and the cities in which they are located, vary widely in size, demographics, and location. Moreover, the racial makeup of the population in redlined areas has grown and evolved dramatically over the last eight decades, and the effects of the practice have spread beyond the confines of the original maps.
The practice of redlining was explicit in its targeting of Black Americans. While Latino or Hispanic residents, low-income white residents, noncitizens, communists, and other populations the federal government deemed “risky” were often included in redlining, they were not targeted in the same manner as Black residents. Today, neighborhoods that fall within once-redlined areas are more likely to have a higher concentration of Black residents, as well as lower incomes, lower home values, and other negative economic characteristics relative to the rest of their cities.
However, proposals that base their remedies primarily on formerly redlined areas paradoxically do not redress the main racial group that was explicitly targeted, exclude important Black neighborhoods and communities, and would skew impact toward a handful of large cities. Place-based discrimination—the practice of divesting in neighborhoods wholesale on the basis of race—has had adverse effects on both people and place. Policymakers should be intentional in ensuring that their proposed solutions can address both.
Consequently, redlining—the master’s tool—will prove to be insufficient in dismantling the legacy of racial inequities in homeownership and wealth in the United States.
We define formerly redlined areas as those geographies marked “Hazardous” or “Fourth Grade” and thus outlined in red via the University of Richmond’s Mapping Inequality project. We define cities as census “Places” and choose principal cities as our unit of comparison, rather than metropolitan areas, to better account for the general centrality of redlined areas around urban cores. Principal cities are defined by the U.S. Census Bureau. Population totals and characteristics are tabulated by aggregating all census block groups whose population-weighted centroids fall within any redlined area (including those areas outside of contemporary principal city limits), estimating aggregated medians and margins of error by linear interpolation. Block groups are the smallest geography for which the American Community Survey provides estimates for the latest dissemination period (2017). However, not all socio-economic characteristics which are available in the ACS at the census tract level are available for block groups. Block groups offer a finer approximation of the irregular geographies of redlined areas, at the expense of accessing fewer ACS estimates. As this analysis is based largely on demographic totals, which are available at the block group level, we choose to make the best possible geographic approximation instead of a broader socio-economic snapshot. Because we examine whether the complicated boundaries of these geographies should be followed closely today, we therefore deem it necessary to estimate the most accurate interpretation of those boundaries possible. At time of writing, 2010 population totals for census blocks are available (and would provide a finer resolution of irregular redlining geographies than block groups), but these figures are nine years old and do not include any socio-economic characteristics. After the 2020 census, block level population data will allow for finer demographic analysis of redlined areas using up-to-date figures. All margins of error and significance tests are calculated at a 90% confidence interval.