Detroit

The federal government redlined Detroit on June 1, 1939. Consistent with the requirements of the government Underwriting Manual, the redlining specifically targeted residents of color, deeming their neighborhoods as “hazardous” to investment because they had residents of color or were even near residents of color. The original redlining map is below. We also have a map overlaying the original HOLC boundaries on 2019 segregation, which starkly show the continued effects of these racist practices.

 

Historical HOLC Redlining Map for Detroit, Michigan (Nelson et al. 2020).

 

Detroit and its Suburbs Redline Grading Justifications

The racist language and explanations below are quoted from the “Area Description Files” filled out by government appraisers. The language and justifications are coarse and offensive. Nonetheless, it is important to remember our past in all of its coarseness is offensiveness to fully understand the context that we confront today, especially when developing equitable housing policies. We detail the justifications for neighborhoods in the City of Detroit, as well as the surrounding suburban areas.

Detroit City

The City of Detroit had a population rich in diversity in 1939 when it was redlined. To the United States federal government, however, this was considered a negative attribute and neighborhoods that were not racially and ethnically segregated had their HOLC-grade reduced. The other HOLC-grading decisions vary across the city, but a summary is quite simple:

  • Government appraisers redlined neighborhoods with any Black families and neighborhoods adjacent thereto, regardless of income or housing quality, making them ineligible for government housing investments. Neighborhoods with a diversity of immigrants were also redlined.
  • Neighborhoods comprised of immigrants from the same country-of-origin or ancestry were graded yellow.
  • Government appraisers gave blue grades were for wealthier non-immigrant White neighborhoods that were sufficiently segregated and distanced from Black neighborhoods, as well as some combination (but not all) of racially-exclusionary zoning practices, racial deed restrictions, racial neighborhood covenants, segregated local schools, utilities, and paved roads.
  • Government appraisers gave the green, best, grades to only a few neighborhoods north of Highland Park and to neighborhoods in Grosse Pointe, areas with the most racially restrictive zoning, deeds, and covenants.

Here are some example Detroit neighborhoods and their racially-explicit justifications for HOLC grades.

Airport Sub

Government appraisers redlined parts of the Airport Sub where Black people lived and yellow-graded areas where only Polish people lived. Specifically, they redlined areas because “Type of population rates the area 4th grade.” The type of population included “mixed – Italian predominating” and “Negro.” They yellow-graded (3rd-graded) other areas because “Age and type of structures rate the area 3rd grade” and “Age and population elements rate the area 3rd grade,” where “population elements in those areas included “Polish concentration.”

Arden Park

Government appraisers yellow-graded Arden Park because, although wealthier White families lived there, this “better element moving out” and their racial “restrictions expiring.” They also noted that “Sales difficult because of encroachment of ‘D’ area.”

Aviation Sub

Government appraisers blue-graded Aviation Sub because Black people did not live there, there were racially restrictive deeds and covenants (“Restricted.”), and the neighborhood was not diverse (“Homogeneous area. Good social group.”).

Bagley

Government appraisers green-graded Bagley because Black people did not live there, there were racially restrictive deeds and covenants (“Restricted.”), and the neighborhood was not diverse (“Homogeneous.”).

 Barton-McFarland

Government appraisers yellow-graded Barton-McFarland because, even though it had “Poorly graded alleys. Unpaved cross streets. Smoke from industry. Only fair maintenance,” only White people lived there and it had racial “Deed restrictions.”

Belmont

Government appraisers blue-graded Belmont because there was no “shifting or infiltration” of racial or ethnic groups, and even though it had high quality homes, “The area is developing rapidly which tends to pull the rating up but overhang and high property turnover together with lack of ordinances and [racial deed or covenant] restrictions prevent a rating better than a ‘B’.”

Bethune Community (Hubbell-Lyndon)

Government appraisers mostly blue-graded the Bethany Community because “The area is developing rapidly which tends to pull the rating up but overhang and high property turnover together with lack of [exclusionary zoning] ordinances and [racial deed and covenant] restrictions prevent a rating better than a ‘B’.” The more “industrial area” in the southeastern corner was yellow-graded.

Boston Edison

Government appraisers yellow-graded Boston Edison because, although wealthier White families lived there, this “better element moving out” and their racial “restrictions expiring.” They also noted that “Sales difficult because of encroachment of ‘D’ area.” In another area, government appraisers wrote that “There is steady Jewish infiltration” and “Mixed elements of the population rate the area 3rd grade.”

Boynton

Government appraisers yellow-graded Boynton because it was “too near industrial plants,” “The area does not have adequate [segregated] school facilities,” and the “type of population rates the area 3rd grade.” The “type of population is clarified as “60% foreign” and “Italian-Hungarian-Mixed.”

Brewster Homes

Government appraisers redlined Brewster Homes and the surrounding neighborhoods because it was a Black housing project (“Negro low cost housing project from Mack to Browster between Beaubien and Hastings of 949 units”).

Brightmoor

Government appraisers redlined Brightmoor because “Poor transportation. No utilities. Few sewers. Shacks, undeveloped subdivisions and undivided land. Existing development of very poor character.” And because there was “to be erected a low-cost housing development of 2,150 units.”

Brush Park (Paradise Valley)

Government appraisers redlined Paradise Valley (now the Brush Park neighborhood) “High foreclosure area. Unreliable tenants. Slum area. Fire hazards” with “infiltration” by “Negro and Jewish.”

Buffalo Charles (Buffalo)

Government appraisers noted both the north and south halves of Buffalo Charles neighborhood were “Area of high foreclosure… Removal of Ford Plant from Highland Park probably accounts for the high property turnover.” The redlined the southern half because Black people lived there and yellow-graded the northern half because only Polish people lived there.

Butler

Butler, Farwell, and Pershing were graded together. Though mostly undeveloped, government appraisers yellow-graded them because it had mostly Polish residents and the “area is remote from civic, social, and employment centers.”

Cadillac Community

Government appraisers graded Cadillac Community, Happy Homes, and Harmony Village together. Though only 50% developed, it had apartments, “[m]ost streets [were] oiled but not paved,” and thus it was an “Industrial area rating 3rd grade.”

Conant Gardens

Although residents were middle class, highly educated, and housing values were increasing, government appraisers redlined the neighborhood because “Negro colony rated 4th grade.” No other justification or clarifying remarks were given.

Douglass (Brewster Douglas)

Government appraisers redlined Douglass because “Many untenable, boarded up houses. Area of high foreclosure. Unreliable tenants. Slums and fire hazards. Vandalism.” And it was near a “Negro low cost housing project.”

Eastern Market

Government appraisers redlined the Eastern Market neighborhood because “High foreclosures. Unreliable class of tenants. Slum area. Fire hazards. Vandalism.” The “unreliable class of tenants included “Polish concentration with mixture Southern Europeans” and “negro.”

Farwell

Butler, Farwell, and Pershing were graded together. Though mostly undeveloped, government appraisers yellow-graded them because it had mostly Polish residents and the “area is remote from civic, social, and employment centers.”

Happy Homes

Government appraisers graded Cadillac Community, Happy Homes, and Harmony Village together. Though only 50% developed, it had apartments, “[m]ost streets [were] oiled but not paved,” and thus it was an “Industrial area rating 3rd grade.”

Harmony Village

Government appraisers graded Cadillac Community, Happy Homes, and Harmony Village together. Though only 50% developed, it had apartments, “[m]ost streets [were] oiled but not paved,” and thus it was an “Industrial area rating 3rd grade.”

Holcomb Community (Bentler-Pickford)

Government appraisers redlined a small area with “cheap shacks.” They yellow-graded areas because, although there were “Unpaved streets” of “cinder and gravel, gravel and tar and some just ruts,” “Development slow,” “Heavy foreclosure,” “Age and obsolescence,” the government appraisers wrote that the all-White residents formed “[g]ood social groups” with “[l]ight [racial deed or covenant] restrictions.”

Hubbard Richard

Hubbard Richard and Mexican Town were both redlined by the federal government because “there is vandalism in the area” and a “heavy concentration low grade aliens” and “undesirable aliens,” including “mixed Europeans – Chinese – Mexicans – Maltese.”

Lafayette Park (Black Bottom)

Government appraisers redlined Black Bottom (now the Lafayette Park neighborhood) because “Unreliable tenants. Slums and fire hazards. Vandalism.” And it had a “Negro low cost housing project.” Black Bottom was bound by Gratiot, Brush, Vernor and the Grand Trunk Railroad. By 1951, 140,000 Black people resided in Black Bottom, but it was completely razed by 1954, remaining vacant for half a decade with portions being converted to interstate (Williams 2009).

Medical Center

Government appraisers redlined what is now known as the Medical Center because it had a “Negro and Jewish” population and “High foreclosure area. Unreliable tenants. Slum area. Fire hazards.”

Mexican Town

Hubbard Richard and Mexican Town were both redlined by the federal government because “there is vandalism in the area” and a “heavy concentration low grade aliens” and “undesirable aliens,” including “mixed Europeans – Chinese – Mexicans – Maltese.”

Midtown

Government appraisers redlined what is now known as Midtown because of “infiltration” of “Negroes from the east.”

Pershing

Butler, Farwell, and Pershing were graded together. Though mostly undeveloped, government appraisers yellow-graded them because it had mostly Polish residents and the “area is remote from civic, social, and employment centers.”

Schoolcraft Southfield

Although only “50% developed,” government appraisers mostly blue-graded the Schoolcraft Southfield neighborhood because it was entirely White and had racially restrictive deeds, covenants, or zoning.

Tech Town

Government appraisers redlined what is now the Tech Town neighborhood because it had “[u]nreliable class of tenants” (“mixed Southern European” and “Negro”), and it was a “slum area.”

University District

Although only “20% developed,” what is not the University District was green graded because it was “homogeneous” White and had “very high [racial] restrictions,” and “good social occupancy.”

Detroit Suburbs

 

The decision whether or not to redline or provide other HOLC grades to Detroit suburban municipalities was based on the same racist criteria as Detroit City neighborhoods. But suburbs were more likely to use and enforce racially restrictive deeds, covenants, and zoning, which thus led to more “green” grades and the associated federal housing subsidization to the suburbs and to White people. Conversely, housing subsidization and investment was eliminated in most Detroit City neighborhoods, to Black families, and to diverse neighborhoods. Resultantly, Detroit became and remains one of the most racially segregated cities in the United States.

Allen Park

Government appraisers yellow-graded “the older section of Allen Park which developed with the shifting of Ford operations to Dearborn” and had a “mixture” of “foreign-born” nationalities. They blue-graded the neighborhoods separated by Southfield road with no foreign-born families, despite unpaved streets, “[inconvenient] social and shopping centers,” and “very infrequent” transportation “by bus only.”

Berkley

Government appraisers yellow-graded Berkley because White “lower middle class” people lived there. “Some fair new construction [was] occurring north of the 12-Mile Road, but stigma of location prevents a more favorable grading.”

Birmingham

Government appraisers green-graded the western neighborhoods of Birmingham that bordered Bloomfield because White “upper middle class - business and professional men” lived there with high zoning restrictions in large homes and a school segregated from the “lower class” neighborhoods. This grade is despite transportation being “distant,” incomplete sewage facilities, and unpaved roads. The blue-graded neighborhoods in east Birmingham also had White “Upper middle class- business and professional men” but zoning restrictions were not as complete. They also noted that it was “protected from the 3rd class area by open ground.” “Labor-Lower class income group” lived in the yellow-graded areas. There were also “middle-class” neighborhoods, but because they shared a school with the lower-class neighborhoods, they received a yellow grade.

Clawson

Government appraisers yellow-graded Clawson because it had a mixture of “foreign families” and nationalities as residents (“Lower middle class- Clerks- Labor”), and the houses “lack uniformity and the reputation of the town is mediocre.”

Dearborn

Government appraisers redlined the eastern side of Dearborn, near the present Ford River Rouge Complex, because it was “unstable” with “Lower class-Labor-Ford Employees” with 90% mixture of “foreign families,” including “Hungarian, Greeks, Italians.”

Government appraisers yellow-graded northern Dearborn neighborhoods because the “population is largely Polish, but of substantial character” and western neighborhoods because they were “the old central portion of Dearborn which is slowly changing character. [Racial and zoning] restrictions are light and rooming houses are coming into the area.”

Government appraisers blue-graded a small central neighborhood because the housing was nice and it was separated from the yellow-graded neighborhood by railroad tracks, but it was not graded higher because “children must cross RR grade crossing to schools.” They blue-graded northern neighborhood without any foreign families or Black people despite “shopping centers [being] inconvenient and transportation service [being] only fair.”

Government appraisers green-graded a neighborhood in western Dearborn because “desirable home owners” (all-White executives) lived in “good houses, well located and attractively planned.”

Dearborn Heights

Government appraisers yellow-graded neighborhoods in Dearborn Heights because they had a “mixture” of “foreign families” and “lower class - auto workers.” Together with the housing, this was sufficient for appraisers to write “Future development will undoubtedly be slow and of third grade character.” In other neighborhoods houses did “not have water and streets [were] unpaved,” and “they are not first-class construction.” Combined with the White-only residents of these latter neighborhoods, they still earned a yellow grade.

Eastpointe

Government appraisers redlined Eastpointe, then called East Detroit, because “Housing is all mediocre and general appeal is lacking,” “distance to employment centers is detrimental as is inconvenience of transportation,” and “Negro threatening in northeast corner.” Opposite, the southwest corner was yellow-graded.

Ecorse

mixed foreign... The local Savings Banks will lend to selected borrowers at very conservative terms, but Detroit institutions will not lend in these areas.” The strip of land along the Detroit River was graded yellow because it did not have neighborhoods with Black people in them, with government appraisers noting “The city has an unfortunate reputation remaining from the Prohibition period” and “infiltration” of Polish people.

Farmington

Government appraisers yellow-graded Farmington because it was “a fairly desirable place to live and “[l]ocal employment is limited but transportation to Detroit is ample although slow.” The all-White residents meant that the “decline will be slow because of suburban character.”

Ferndale

Government appraisers mostly yellow-graded Ferndale because. The northern neighborhood was blue-graded because it was “the best section of Ferndale and the only one of good character generally appealing to the better class buyer.” They also note that schools are segregated, “School facilities are shared with Pleasant Ridge immediately to the north,” but that Pleasant Ridge has “better” racially-restrictive deeds, covenants, or zoning. The yellow-graded neighborhoods “on the whole [was] a good working-man’s section,” and the redlined neighborhoods was only 25% built, but with lower quality housing and where a “mixture” or nationalities lived and the only part of Ferndale where Black people lived.

Garden City

Government appraisers yellow-graded most neighborhoods because there was Polish “infiltration” and “[d]evelopment is slow and other areas are more favorably located as well as better [racially] restricted.”

Government appraisers redlined the otherwise similar southeast fourth of Garden City because of “Negro infiltration.”

Grosse Pointe

Government appraisers graded the western sliver of Grosse Point yellow because it had White middle class residents, was “mostly second grade, but street was not [class] segregated” and “Decline will be fairly slow because of social influence.” Next, they graded a sliver blue because it had White “middle and upper middle class,” and “location is Grosse Pointe - favorably affects these properties,” with segregated schools. Finally, they graded the neighborhoods along the coast and furthest from Detroit as green because they were the most segregated and wealthiest areas, and “reputation of Grosse Pointe Village is most favorable,” “although many of these houses are large mansions and, as such, slow to sell.”

Grosse Pointe Farms

Government appraisers yellow-graded the western sliver of neighborhoods with “mixed” nationalities that were “definitely out of place in this location,” but were there because the neighborhoods “house[d] servants and gardeners of richer families in Grosse Pointe.” The government blue-graded White middle class families “favorably affected by Grosse Pointe location” and green-lined the majority of Grosse Pointe Farms because they were “well located in [a racially] restricted area” with “middle and upper class” White residents.

Grosse Pointe Park

Government appraisers graded the western sliver of neighborhoods bordering Detroit with White “Middle - lower middle class - clerks – salesmen” residents as yellow. Next, they graded a sliver blue with White “middle class” residents, noting their segregated schools and “transportation and shopping facilities are convenient.” Finally, the government graded the rest green, with White “Upper class - business and professional men” residents. They note that racial deed “restrictions are protective and the area is zoned for residential purposes only.”

Grosse Pointe Shores

Government appraisers green-graded Grosse Pointe Shores because it had only White wealthy residents, restrictive zoning, and “few of these homes have come into the market in recent years which indicates that they are very well held.”

Grosse Pointe Woods

Government appraisers green-graded the wealthier White neighborhoods in Grosse Pointe Woods because, “although this section is only about 10% built at present,” they thought it would be a “better class development” because it had White residents and the “area is well [racially] restricted.”

Hamtramck

Government appraisers redlined neighborhoods in Hamtramck with “Negro” “infiltration.” Although the rest of Hamtramck was still lower-middle-class, but because it was not diverse (“90% Polish” and “0% Negro”), the government yellow-graded it.

Hazel Park

Government appraisers redlined almost all of Hazel Park because of “infiltration” of “lower class” “Polish from Hamtramck.” Although, “25% developed with scattered poor houses in fairly good demand because of cost and rental,” “future of the area is only fair and [deeds and covenants with racial] restrictions are lacking.” The yellow-graded area seems to have had better houses and there is no mention of lacking racially restrictive zoning, deeds, or covenants.

Highland Park

Government appraisers redlined the neighborhoods in Highland Park with diversity, including where “Italian-Hungarian-Balkan,” “Greek,” “Jewish,” and “Negro & mixture.” This redlining occurred after the “removal of Ford Plant from Highland Park left many vacant stores.” Although the houses were relatively good quality, “type of population rate the area 4th grade.” Government appraisers yellow-graded neighborhoods that did not have Black people living there, though despite relatively quality homes, neighborhoods remained yellow because they had ethnically “mixed social groups.”

Huntington Woods

Government appraisers green-graded White “upper middle class; business and professional men” neighborhoods along Woodward Avenue that shared schools with upper-middle class Royal Oak neighborhoods, although they note that “Jewish threatening” “infiltration.” They blue-graded neighborhoods where middle-class White families lived that shared schools with Berkley, which had lower-class students. They yellow-graded western neighborhoods where “mechanics; clerks; labor; lower middle class” White people lived.

Inkster

Government appraisers redlined Inkster south of Michigan Avenue, where “Many of the workers are employed at the Ford Motor” because it was “almost entirely occupied by negroes.” They note that although there was new building, those neighborhoods were also redlined because of their proximity to redlined neighborhoods “as no [racial] restrictions are in effect.”

Government appraisers yellow-graded Inkster north of Michigan Avenue because of adjacency to the redlined neighborhoods, and “Bus transportation is available only on Michigan Rd. which is the main Highway to Chicago. It is very doubtful that this area will improve greatly in view of the poor reputation of Inkster.”

Lathrup Village

Government appraisers blue-graded Lathrup Village (then Southfield Township) because it was all-White and had a “good class home owner.” The “subdivision [was] carefully controlled by the developer who [had] built a good [segregated] grade school and made every attempt to control the development.”

Lincoln Park

Government appraisers yellow-graded most neighborhoods because even though they had residents with a “mixture” of nationalities “virtually no prospect of improvement,” there were no Black residents. They blue-graded neighborhoods with no foreign families that were the “only good area in town,” though the “general reputation of Lincoln Park adversely affects the desirability of all properties in the town.”

Melvindale

Government appraisers yellow-graded neighborhoods because they were an “undesirable place to live” due to “[railroad] traffic and Ford Motor Company plant keep[ing] the city dirty and noisy” and a “mixture” of foreign families. Government appraisers redlined the (otherwise similar) neighborhoods in Melvindale because Black people lived there.

Pleasant Ridge

“There is a good [segregated] grade school which is shared with Ferndale.” They yellow-graded some neighborhoods because “transportation is double fare to Detroit,” commuter train is available also,” and “school children must cross heavy traffic on Woodward Avenue to school.” They yellow-graded the other area because it was “sparsely built area of mediocre character with many garage type houses in an inaccessible neighborhood,” “transportation and shopping centers are inconvenient,” “sewerage is lacking, and “section has poor future.”

Redford Township

The only neighborhood in Redford that government appraisers gave a blue grade was “favorably influenced by convenience to Golf Club,” and was “well restricted” [from racial or ethnic “infiltration”]. Government appraisers yellow-graded other neighborhoods because residents were “lower middle class - auto workers” and a “mixture” of “foreign families.”

River Rouge

Despite “fair” housing, government appraisers redlined half of River Rouge because “the mixed population (Negroes and Polish) precludes the area from a better rating.” They noted that the “Negro-rate depends on Ford activity.”

Government appraisers noted a small neighborhood without any foreign-born or Black people was almost given a blue grade, but “General appearance of the neighborhood precludes it from being a ‘B’ area.” The neighborhoods adjacent to this area were given a yellow grade because there were Polish people living there and demand was “constant” due to “Many of the workers are employed at Great Lakes Steel Corp. and the Ford Motor Co.”

Riverview

Government appraisers redlined Riverview because it was “lower class” and it was a “sparsely built section of poor houses in varying conditions of repair.”

Roseville

Government appraisers yellow-graded Roseville because it was a “An outlying town of scattered development most of which is concentrated near Gratiot Ave.,” “housing is similar in most respects to East Detroit, but distance to employment centers definitely limits appeal,” and “Negro is concentrated South of Church Street between Macomb and Pinehurst.” This is one of the very few examples in which an area where Black people lived was not redlined, though it was used as a justification to redline Eastpointe.

Royal Oak

Government appraisers blue-graded some neighborhoods in Royal Oak because they were “sparsely developed area of good character which is developing slowly with modest homes,” and had “better” racially restrictive deeds, covenants, or zoning. They yellow-graded neighborhoods where “lower class; mechanics; clerks; labor” lived.

St. Clair Shores

Although it was a “mediocre area of scattered development with all types of houses some fair and many poor without conveniences,” government appraisers yellow-graded most of St. Clair Shores was because it was White “Lower middle class & Middle class” and the “original [zoning] restrictions were easily broken.” They blue-graded the “middle class” neighborhood along the coast of Lake St. Clair “primarily because of lake shore frontage.”

Trenton

Government appraisers redlined the neighborhoods bordering Riverview because it had residents with a “mixture” of “foreign-born” nationalities, and thus “prospects appear more unstable.” The yellow-graded area (central Trenton) had some foreign-born families, implied a “Decline in desirability,” while the “‘best’ part of Trenton” was on the river where there were no foreign families and “many of the executives of the Detroit Edison Co. (Trenton Plant).”

Wayne

Government appraisers redlined “comparatively new” neighborhoods with transportation available and “convenience to Ford Motor Company” because those neighborhoods were “developing as a negro colony.”

Government appraisers blue-graded a “small area of fairly good houses” that did not have any foreign-born or Black residents, and yellow-graded neighborhoods where the “suburban location [was] desirable,” but where there was a mixture of “foreign families.”

Wyandotte

Government appraisers redlined areas that were “unfavorably affected by proximity to the chemical works at the Southern boundary” in addition to having “lower-class” “foreign-born Polish” people. The blue-graded areas were given that rating because they did not have any foreign-born people living in them and “because of sound construction and [racial and ethnic] homogeneity.” The yellow-graded areas were less homogeneous with “Italian threatening” to move in.

The Legacy of Redlining in Detroit

The decision whether or not to redline or provide other HOLC grades to Detroit suburban municipalities was based on the same racist criteria as Detroit City neighborhoods. But suburbs were more likely to use and enforce racially restrictive deeds, covenants, and zoning, which thus led to more “green” grades and the associated housing subsidization in the suburbs and to White people. Conversely, housing subsidization and investment was eliminated in most Detroit City neighborhoods, to Black families, and to diverse neighborhoods. Resultantly, Detroit became and remains one of the most racially segregated cities in the United States and the racial wealth and housing gap remains one of the largest in the United States.

We overlay the historical HOLC “redlining” map on present-day demographic data to show the persistence and continued relevance of these racist policies on present-day segregation. We mirror the racist HOLC color gradation to help visualize the continued segregation, as a lasting impact of redlining.

HOLC Grades overlaid on the people of color populations by 2019 Census Tract in Detroit, Michigan (Manson et al. 2021 and Nelson et al. 2020). Percent people of color are calculated for U.S. Census tracts as percent not “White non-Hispanic,” using the 2019 American Community Survey.

Higher segregation is associated with lower incomes, lower educational attainment, more crime, worse health outcomes, and higher inequality. But segregation is not the only lasting impact of redlining in Michigan Cities, or in Detroit. Researchers have shown that redlining also directly reduced many of these outcomes.


This research was conducted by Michigan State University Extension Specialist Craig Wesley Carpenter, Ph.D. (@DrCWCarpenter or carpe224@msu.edu).