What did the colors red, blue, yellow and green on the HOLC map of the Bronx, New York, mean when it came to property and mortgage lending?

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The Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) was a New Deal program established to assist homeowners whose mortgages were in default due to the extremely dire circumstances of the Great Depression. While the intent behind its establishment was meritorious, however, its implementation soon began to reflect racial and socioeconomic divisions in...

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The Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) was a New Deal program established to assist homeowners whose mortgages were in default due to the extremely dire circumstances of the Great Depression. While the intent behind its establishment was meritorious, however, its implementation soon began to reflect racial and socioeconomic divisions in the country’s largest cities. One of its practices was the outlining of maps of these cities with different neighborhoods presented in different colors, depending upon the level of financial risk associated with the issuance of mortgages. A basic lending practice soon morphed into an instrument of racial segregation.

The HOLC map of the Bronx is divided, as noted, into four types of sections identified by their color. The purpose of the map was to enable mortgage lenders and authorities, including the Federal Housing Authority—another New Deal creation whose principle function was the underwriting and issuance of housing loans—to identify those neighborhoods based on the the greatest level of risk regarding prospects of loan repayment. The color-coded scheme that was used is below:

Green = Best (A)

Blue = Still desirable (B)

Yellow = Definitely declining (C)

Red = Hazardous (D)

As one can see, neighborhoods or communities colored green were considered the lowest risk and those colored red the highest. Because of the prevalence of poverty among African-American and immigrant communities, these areas were coded red, a practice that evolved into a form of institutionalized segregation, as people of color and others (e.g., European immigrant communities like the Irish and Italians) who were among the lowest rungs of the socioeconomic ladder were considered the highest risk for loans and, consequently, were denied mortgages.

On the HOLC map from 1933 consulted, Mount Eden, a neighborhood in the Bronx borough of New York City, is predominantly blue, indicating that it was ranked “still desirable.” A part of the northern section of Mount Eden could be in the red, but it is too difficult to tell with absolute certainty.

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