Jamelle Bouie, SLATE
(Slate) — In 1934, Homer Hoyt wrote a dissertation—“One Hundred Years of Land Values in Chicago: The Relationship of the Growth of Chicago to the Rise of Its Land Values, 1830–1933”—that ranked various races and nationalities by order of “desirability.” Most desired were the old American stock of Anglo-Saxons and Northern Europeans—English, Germans, Scots, Irish, and Scandinavians—followed by Northern Italians, Czechoslovakians, Polish, Lithuanians, Greeks, “Russian Jews of the lower class,” South Italians, and at the bottom of the list, “Negroes and Mexicans.”
Hoyt, as chief economist of the Federal Housing Authority, wanted to improve the accuracy of real-estate appraisals so that an affiliated agency—the Home Owner’ Loan Corporation, established by the Home Owners’ Refinancing Act of 1933—could standardize the process for making mortgage loans, avoid undue risks, and bail out homeowners who lost their homes in the economic crash. Working with Hoyt at the FHA, the HOLC would map cities and divide neighborhoods into various risk categories that were based on his ethnic hierarchy and coded accordingly. A “green” neighborhood was white, affluent, Anglo-Saxon, and appropriately Protestant. A “blue” one had less desirable whites—Jews, Irish, and Italians—but was stable and upwardly mobile. A “yellow” one had undesirable, often working-class whites, and a “red” one was predominantly black or Mexican, regardless of wealth or class. And in these “redlined” areas, loans were either expensive or nonexistent, forcing families to rely on speculators and private sales by unscrupulous homeowners.