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New Deal era housing discrimination in Evanston

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In the depths of the depression in the 1930s, the federal government hired real estate professionals across the country to create maps identifying the desirability for home loans of different neighborhoods in cities including Evanston.

Now those maps and the narrative neighborhood descriptions accompanying them are available online through the Mapping Inequality project at the University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab.

The maps graded neighborhoods into four categories — from green for "best" through red for "hazardous" — and became the origin of the term "redlining" — describing the practice in which lenders refused to make loans in neighborhoods considered risky.

The full map HOLC map for Evanston.

What's evident from the descriptions accompanying the maps is that a neighborhood was automatically considered "hazardous" if it was occupied by blacks.

Here's the description of the neighborhood labeled "D2" on the map — which contains most of the present-day 5th Ward and a portion of the 2nd Ward:

This neighborhood houses the large negro population living in Evanston. It is somewhat better than the average negro district in that the bulk of the houses are one family detached units in anything but a congested district for this class of population. Here live the servants for many of the families all along the north shore. There is not a vacant house in the territory, and occupancy, moreover, is about 150 per cent, for most houses have more than one family living in them. Sales have been very good where liberal financing terms are available, but on other sales mortgage financing is virtually impossible to obtain. This concentration of negroes in Evanston is quite a serious problem for the town as they seem to be growing steadily and encroaching into adjoining neighborhoods. The two family structures are in most cases converted singles and they likewise are overflowing with occupants; these buildings are rented as unheated units. The number of persons on relief in this district is probably heavier than in any other area long the north shore. Altho the area is probably heavier than the class of occupants already here, it is difficult to say that the section is declining, for it is in constant demand because of the limited number of areas available for negro occupancy in the north shore towns.

The only Chicago metro area neighborhood north of Evanston identified as "hazardous" was a tiny enclave in Glencoe described as "about 50 percent negro and 50 percent Italian" but with the Italian population gradually increasing.

The description continues: "The neighborhood is graded "D" because of its concentration of negroes, but the section may improve to a third class area as this element is forced out."

Then there's the area along the Evanston lakefront south of the Northwestern University campus. It was graded "B" or "Still desirable" and was said to be home to "some of Evanston's fine, old-wealth families." That area's description reads in part:

The lake front, except as noted above, is all park district with many bathing beaches along its entire length. Each year a separate bathing beach is designated for the large colored population living in Evanston, the thought being a constant shifting of this location would minimize the adverse affect of negro bathing facilities.

The federal government ruled housing discrimination illegal in the 1960s and 1970s, and while Evanston is far more integrated than it was then, the lingering impact of discriminatory housing policies continue to be seen in housing patterns today.

(Thanks to Lori Osborne of the Evanston History Center for a Tweet mentioning the Mapping Inequality project's work.)

Related stories

Here's how the federal government made the maps that crippled black neighborhoods (Slate)

Mapping housing discrimination in U.S. Cities (Next City)

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