Written by Cherlyn
Attempting to stabilize after foreclosures during the Great Depression, the federal government put together maps for banks such as this one from 1936. It shows which neighborhoods are “desirable” based on the predicted safety of mortgages. The desirability of these areas was determined by housing conditions, neighborhood incomes, but also their racial makeup. Armed with this map, banks and financiers began distributing loans with the condition that the proposed land not be inhabited by non-white people to secure home owners that they believed would get them their money's worth. Any neighborhood that allowed non-white residents would automatically be considered “hazardous” (in the red zone, which is where the term redlining comes from). Mortgages for homes in this area were very hard to get, which prevented communities of color from accumulating wealth through property ownership. The “best” neighborhoods were quickly bought out by white customers and Seattle’s communities of color were further pushed into “hazardous” ones. Home owners, neighborhood groups, real estate agents, and developers in white-dominated communities also enforced residential segregation by putting racially restrictive housing covenants into property deeds that stated that homes couldn’t be sold to specific ethnic or racial groups. By the 1970’s, the Central District was home to about 70 percent of the city’s Black population.
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down racist housing covenants in 1948, though some Seattle deeds still contain them. In 1968, local and federal fair housing laws were put into place that made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race when selling or renting housing. These efforts were led by community leaders alongside the civil rights movement. In Seattle, non-discriminatory housing was passed by the City Council and signed by the mayor, only three weeks after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Even with this implementation of “equality”, unwritten or altered versions of redlining policies and overt discrimination continued to be used into the next decade.
We still see the impacts of these policies in the racial makeup of neighborhoods and schools today. According to a study of 2018 Census Bureau data done for the Seattle Times, North Seattle neighborhoods remain mostly white; Madison Park/Broadmoor for example, was tied for least-diverse with Fauntelroy/Gatewood in West Seattle, with a population of 89% white people. Southern neighborhoods like Federal Way, White Center, and Rainier Beach were ranked among the most diverse; in the northern end of Federal Way, no single racial group made up more than 28% of the population. With less access to generational wealth due to these historic practices and continuing income inequality, communities of color continue to be subjected to lower quality living conditions because of an inability to acquire desirable property. Resilient communities have formed in these formerly “dangerous” areas, but forces like gentrification threaten the stability and resources they have built for themselves.