Redlining and how it shaped the suburbs of today

1934, the Federal government passed the National Housing Act, creating the Federal Housing Administration. In turn, housing discrimination against people of color, whom were already discriminated against, became “legal”.

Present day, the housing discrimination against people of color known as Redlining is now illegal but it’s actions are still felt in cities across the country, both large and small. The Metro-Detroit area was no exception.

redlining map.png
1939 Residential Security Map created by private mortgage firm Hearne Brothers

So what does redlining mean? It was the manipulation of four ranking system for neighborhoods that the FHA created to “guide” people into investing in homes in certain neighborhoods.

The four classifications for neighborhoods are as follows: Best, still desirable, declining, and hazardous. Generally speaking, hazardous neighborhoods had people of color in them.

Hazardous areas were typically shown as red, hence the name “Redlining”.

Urban planning historian Kenneth Jackson theorized in his 1985 book The Suburbanization of the United States, that redlining was used by private and public interest to deny loans to black families.

It was later determined that the Home Owners Loan Corporation, a government run agency, did not use it for such activities but private companies used it to redline.

Ossian H. Sweet

So what happens when a person of color could afford to live in an area that isn’t redlined? On September 8, 1925, Ossian Sweet and his family moved into a home on 2905 Garland Street in Detroit, Michigan.

Ossian was a Florida native who graduated from Howard University with a medical degree. He worked at the Dunbar hospital as a physician and saved $3500 to purchase a home in Detroit.

Sweet House
Ossian Sweet and his home on 2905 Garland Street

Ossian and his family were black and Garland Street was located in a white neighborhood. The reaction of the white neighbors was violent.

On September 9th, Philip Adler, a Detroit News Reporter, described the situation outside the Sweet’s house.

“The mob consisted of 400 to 500 people, throwing stones at the house like hail,” said Adler.

When shots rang from the second-story window, killing one of the rioters, police came and arrested all the individuals in the house. After a series of trials nobody was charged with the murder as self-defense was claimed.

After the incident Sweet rented the house to a white family until 1930 when he moved back into the neighborhood. Sadly, his wife and daughter died four years earlier from tuberculosis.

Sweet sold the house in 1946.

Redlinings Affects on Neighborhoods Today

In 1968,  the Fair Housing Act was passed to stop private lenders from discriminate based on race. However, the affects of redlining still exist today.

Darcy Oudeh, a real estate agent for Century 21 in Garden City said ,”today we have a code of ethics and if a customer asks (about race or crime) we refer them to the police department or city hall.”

Although redlining no longer happens, it has shaped the cities and sprawling metropolises of today.

 Redlining Maps Reflecting Today’s Demographics

Below is a list of Detroit and surrounding cities with their 1939 Redlining “maps” followed by the current demographics of the cities.

Key: Best = Blue

Still Desirable= Green

Declining= Yellow


Inskter Waye Redlining

Inkster: 18.3% Caucasian, 76.5% African American, Average Income $15,277

Wayne: 76.3% Caucasian, 17.1 African American, Average Income $22, 643

Garden City: 92.5 Caucasian, 3.4% African American, Average Income $ 23,333

Birmingham Redlining.png

Birmingham: 92.3% Caucasian, 3.0% African American, Average Income $69,172

Ferndale: 84.6% Caucasian, 8.9% African American, Average Income $23,133

Huntington Woods: 94.34% Caucasian, 2.1% African American, Average Income $56,184

Hazel Park: 83.77% Caucasian, 10.5% African American, Average Income $19,390

Interactive Map of Redlining Statistics and Today’s Demographics

Another Perspective on Redlining 


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