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Redlining in Los Angeles County

Map Overlay of Racially-Assessed Communities from 1939

Overlay of racially-graded assessments of Los Angeles County communities, lifted from a Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) map of 1939. Image created by the Los Angeles Almanac.

In 1935, the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC), an agency under the Federal Housing Administration, established to increase homeownership for working-class Americans under President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, created a grading system to assess the “desirability” of residential communities. The assessments were for the purpose of informing mortgage lenders and realtors in making loans and guiding buyers. Most non-rural communities were assigned one of the following grades:

  • A: “Newer, Most Desired” (color-code Green)
  • B: “Older, Still Desirable” (color-code Blue)
  • C: “In Decline” (color-code Yellow)
  • D: “Hazardous” (color-code Red)

HOLC was tasked with creating maps for 239 U.S. cities showing assigned grades for their various communities using these color codes. HOLC's map for Los Angeles County was issued in 1939.

A key factor that influenced HOLC grades was race. A racially homogenous population was considered desirable, but only so long as that race was white and non-immigrant. Communities with African American, Asian, Native American and Latino residents typically received, at best, a C grade and, more commonly, a D grade. The presence of Jews also could reduce a community's grade. Even white immigrant populations, such as Slavs, Greeks and Italians, would negatively impact a community's grade if those populations made little effort to distance themselves from neighbors who were people of color.

The assigning of the “red” D grade to communities with minority populations gave rise to the term “redlining.” Redlining came to be the practice of denying mortgages in communities due to racial or ethnic composition, regardless of the qualifications or creditworthiness of individual residents.

HOLC MAP of Central Los Angeles, 1939

HOLC map of central Los Angeles County, 1939. Image from Mapping Inequality - Redlining in New Deal America, University of Richmond's Digital Scholarship Lab.

HOLC published descriptions for each community, prominently including the percentage of resident foreign families (including predominant nationalities) and African Americans ("Negroes"). Also prominently shown near the top of a community description was an entry under “Shifting or Infiltration.” These entries were often egregiously racist descriptions, using such terms as "infiltrated" and "subversive."

The table below shows NOLC descriptive entries for a few select Los Angeles County neighborhoods. Exact terms are shown. One "A" grade community, Beverly Hills, is shown, because, despite its high grade, it still records "infiltration" by people considered to be undesirable neighbors.

NOLC Racial Descriptions for Select Los Angeles County Communities

Community Grade & Color Code % Foreign Families Foreign Families Nationalities % Negros Shifting or Infiltration
Beverly Hills A (Green) 0 --- 0 Slight infiltration of Jewish people.
Alhambra D (Red) 70 Mexicans (Many American-born) 2 Rapidly giving way to industry and subversive races.
Artesia D (Red) 10 Mexicans and a few Japanese 0 None observed.
Belvedere Gardens D (Red) 50 Russian, Polish, Armenian, Jews, Mexicans, Italians, Greeks, Slavonians, etc. 1 Subversive racial elements increasing.
Boyle Heights D (Red) 50 Russian, Polish, Armenian, Jews, Slavs, Greeks, American Mexicans, Japanese, Italians 1 Subversive racial elements increasing.
Community Grade & Color Code % Foreign Families Foreign Families Nationalities % Negros Shifting or Infiltration
Central Ave D (Red) 40 Mexicans, Japanese, low class Italians 50 Encroachment of industry a threat.
Highland Park C (Yellow) 5 None subversive 0 None apparent.
Hollywood* D (Red) 15 Orientals, Mexicans Few Infiltration of Orientals increasing. Encroachment of industry also a threat.
Jefferson & Arlington Park D (Red) 20 Japanese, Russian, Polish Jews 45 Negroes and Japanese increasingly numerous
Lincoln Park D (Red) 20 Mexicans, Italians Few, scattered Subversive racial elements increasing.
Community Grade & Color Code % Foreign Families Foreign Families Nationalities % Negros Shifting or Infiltration
Long Beach* D (Red) 20 Mexicans, Japanese, Italians 5 Slow increase of subversive racial elements.
Pasadena* D (Red) 10 Mexicans, Japanese 40 Both Mexican and Negro population increasing.
San Pedro* C (Yellow) 20 Serbs, Italians 0 Serbs and Italians of better class.
San Pedro* D (Red) 50 Japs [sic], Mexicans, low-type Southern Europeans 5 Further infiltration of subversive racial elements.
Santa Monica* D (Red) 20 Mexicans, Japanese 10 Subversive racial elements increasing.
Community Grade & Color Code % Foreign Families Foreign Families Nationalities % Negros Shifting or Infiltration
South Venice D (Red) 10 Italians, Mexicans, Japanese 0 Subversive racial elements increasing.
West Adams C (Yellow) 40 Polish, Russian, Armenian Jews 0 Increase of foregoing foreign element evident.

* One of several neighborhoods in that community

Source: Interactive NOLC Map of Los Angeles County, 1939, by Josh Begley

At the same time, racial restrictive covenants were commonly written into the deeds of many residential properties that prohibited non-white (and often Jewish) persons from residing on a property, with domestic servants being the only exception. A selling point for many new housing developments was the use of the term “restricted.” This signaled that properties for sale were only sold to white (and often Christian) buyers. According to “Understanding Fair Housing” by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 1973, 80 percent of properties in Los Angeles by 1940 included racial restrictive covenants in their deeds.

Real Estate Ad for Leimert Park, 1927

1927 real estate ad for Leimert Park in the Los Angeles Times. We highlighted the description "Restricted."

Racially restrictive covenants, coupled with HOLC redlining, reinforced de-facto racial segregation and undermine efforts by minority homeowners to obtain funding for improving their homes and, by extension, their neighborhoods.

In 1948, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Shelley v. Kraemer, ruled that racial restrictive covenants were unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment and, therefore, legally unenforceable. It took much longer, however, to outlaw redlining. Redlining did not became illegal until passage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. The Community Reinvestment Act 1977 further outlawed discriminatory lending criteria for lower-income communities.

Also see: When Nat King Cole Moved In - Curbed LA.

The damage of redlining, however, had already been baked into Los Angeles County's communities. Although the practice has now long been illegal (with occasional surreptitious cases still popping up), the long-term damage of redlining continues to this day. With the exception of neighborhoods along the coast, Los Angeles County’s map of racially disparate neighborhoods looks mostly unchanged from those of more than eight decades ago. Most formerly red-lined communities continue to remain persistantly bogged-down in the county's economic margins.

Data artist Josh Begley, provides an interactive map of Los Angeles County showing the 1939 HOLC grading, including links to HOLC descriptions for each community.

-- These Maps Document the History of Housing Discrimination In Los Angeles, by Carman Tse, LAist, 2016
-- Mapping Inequality - Redlining in New Deal America, University of Richmond's Digital Scholarship Lab
-- Newly Released Maps Show How Housing Discrimination Happened, by Greg Miller, National Geographic, 2016
-- Segregation in the City of Angels: A 1939 Map of Housing Inequality in L.A., by Ryan Reft, KCET, 2017
-- Lasting Redlining in Los Angeles County, by Pallavi Panyam and Pierce Barnes, UC Berkeley, 2019
-- The Legacy of Redlining in Los Angeles: Disinvestment, Injustice, and Inefficiency Finding a Path Forward in 2019 and Beyond, by Jamie Tijerina, City of Los Angeles, 2019

Also see: Furlong Tract Community - L.A.'s First African American Community