Redlining is commonly known as the practice of discriminating, usually against racial/ethnic minorities, in an effort to keep them from purchasing a home or attempting to rent in specific areas. It also encompasses efforts to corral minorities into specific neighborhoods, and may refer to restricting other services. The term redlining was first used by sociologist John McKnight describing the bank practice of drawing a red line on maps delineating areas where they would not invest.
In September of 1962 the Lansing Human Relations Committee issued a statement deriding sectarian landlords and discriminatory real estate practices. In part, their official announcement read, “[W]e hold that segregation based on race, creed, and national origin is contrary to God’s will and the American heritage of freedom.” Copies were sent to the Lansing Board of Realtors and local brokers.
Five years later, amid the controversial relocation of residents for the proposed 496 expressway, a story in the Lansing State Journal reports the construction of low-income housing units, primarily for those displaced residents. Later that year the Lansing City Council unanimously adopted an Open Housing Ordinance. StuartDunnings Jr., notable local attorney and Chairman of the Human Relations Committee who drafted the ordinance, said a month before the vote; “I won’t say housing legislation will change [the] hearts of some people overnight, but it will provide a legal means to assure minorities the opportunity to rent or buy housing in areas of their choice without discrimination.” Lansing was the tenth Michigan City to enact such a measure.
Below is a 1949 Lansing real estate listing denoting in the special remarks “rented to colored”.
In previous decades the parochial slant appears even less obscured. The Standard Home Builder, a publication of Lansing’s Standard Home Real Estate Company, was published in the second decade of the 20th century. During the development of the West Side’s Westmoreland subdivision the restrictions were published.
For much of the 20th century, realtors and developers did not produce overt discriminatory documentation. Often purposefully vague restrictions on subdivisions allowed for boards to restrict new residents citing nebulous reasons. Restrictive covenants, which are part of a deed, take many forms. They may “run with the land”, or be between the original seller and buyer. The covenant may limit details such as the number of buildings per acre, size or buildings, type of businesses allowed or if minority groups can own or occupy buildings. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled these race/ethnic restrictions unenforceable in 1948 (Shelley v. Kraemer).
In December 1971 an article appears in the LSJ detailing techniques some local realtors and lenders used to circumvent the housing ordinance. However, the local ordinance combined with the Fair Housing Act of April 1968 appears to have curtailed egregious offenders, opening home ownership to many who had previously been denied. The then Lansing Human Relations Director Richard Letts stated “[i]f there is any large scale discrimination…it is very subtle”. He was encouraged by the West Side Neighborhood Association’s efforts towards integration.
In July 1977 the Greater Lansing Residential Loan Review Committee was established, the first of its kind in Michigan. Allegations of redlining continued to decline. However, accusations of impropriety by city officials, collusion between Housing Commission members, scandals over secret meetings, race and sex discrimination lawsuits and refusal to comply with Freedom of Information requests peppered the local press through 1979. Lansing Mayor Graves called for an audit of the Housing Commission’s books.
In October 1979 an LSJ article describes local lenders following national trends by severely restricting loans by raising eligibility requirements as interest rates soared. This process burst a housing bubble, created in part by Baby Boomers coming of age coupled with the Fair Housing Act.
In December 1979 the City of Lansing published a 165 page report on the commission’s books. The document cited several problems including: missing or incomplete documents, faulty placement policy, incomplete leases, lack of records of income verification, waiting list deficiencies and some special privileges for select tenants in “paying rentals”. Overall it was a mixed review. The report concludes; “[i]nternal Audit found many areas
functioning very well and others that needed a good deal of improvement.”
Lansing State Journal Newspaper 9/27/1962
Lansing State Journal Newspaper 1/31/1967
Lansing State Journal Newspaper 8/30/1967
Lansing State Journal Newspaper 10/3/1967
Lansing State Journal Newspaper 12/29/1971
Lansing State Journal Newspaper 12/29/1975
Lansing State Journal Newspaper 1/14/1977
Lansing State Journal Newspaper 2/25/1977
Lansing State Journal Newspaper 7/29/1977
Lansing State Journal Newspaper 3/15/1979
Lansing State Journal Newspaper 7/5/1979
Lansing State Journal Newspaper 7/10/1979
Lansing State Journal Newspaper 7/11/1979
Lansing State Journal Newspaper 7/13/1979
Lansing State Journal Newspaper 8/4/1979
Lansing State Journal Newspaper 8/7/1979
Lansing State Journal Newspaper 10/28/1979
Lansing State Journal Newspaper 12/5/1979
“The political economy of black housing: from the housing crisis of the great migrations to the subprime mortgage crisis” The Black Scholar, 40.1 (Spring 2010)
“Redlining in a majority Black city?: mortgage lending and the racial composition of Detroit neighborhoods” The Western Journal of Black Studies 29.1 (Spring 2005)
“Residential segregation and the transformation of home mortgage lending” Social Forces, 86.2 (Dec. 2007)
The Standard Home Builder, Vol. 1, No. 1
Images Courtesy of the Capital Area District Library Special Collections