How is it that neighborhoods of NYC are segregated by race? Harlem, for example, is an iconic “black” neighborhood. The racial history is rich in NYC; there is a Chinatown and a Harlem, just as there is a Manhattan (and then there are SoHo’s within Manhattan). The real estate in SoHo is the most expensive residential real estate in New York nest to Carnegie Hill, of course (Plitt). It is not a coincidence that the demographics of New York City are now spread out by racial divisions. This essay explores the roots of racial displacement in the neighborhoods of NYC: The Federal Housing Authority (FHA) and the practice of “redlining.”
Redlining. Redlining is the name given to a mapped area that reflects the liability of housing loans (Nonko). This is a practice that started in the 1930’s by the FHA (Nonko). The FHA would review a neighborhood’s demographics and if the neighborhood was thought of as too much of a risk, then the FHA would not loan on any homes there (Nonko). The term redlining came from the actual lines drawn onto maps by the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC): “On the maps, green areas, rated “A,” indicated “in demand” neighborhoods that, as one appraiser put it, lacked “a single foreigner or Negro.” (Nonko).
In fact, prior to the FHA, neighborhoods in NYC were not as segregated: “New York in the 1890s [had] “no single large neighborhood was an all-Negro community. Handfuls of small and densely populated ghettos…were found throughout Manhattan Island…They were surrounded by white people …” (Logan, Zhang, and Chunyu). Therefore, the segregation and the creation of full ghettos, such as Harlem, is based entirely on racial assumptions made by the FHA.
Langston Hughes’ Harlem. It 1951, Langston Hughes, one of the greatest black poets and activists of all time, writes a poem entitled, Harlem. The poem questions what happens when dreams are not achievable. It examines all of the possibilities, and ends in the idea that violence is what happens when a dream is deferred: “Or does it explode?” (Hughes). Harlem, as a city, is known for its violence. The poem that Hughes wrote is a literary approach to a very real problem. After the FHA redlined and created districts, further repression drove these neighborhoods to remain in poverty.
NYC neighborhoods and racial demographics. As far back as 1880, there were clusters of black neighborhoods, The Tenderloin had the greatest number of black people in 1880 (Logan, Zhang, and Chunyu). The Tenderloin had one fifth of the total number of blacks in NYC and it was considered NYC’s redlight district at that time (Logan, Zhang, and Chunyu). Blacks were not the only race segregated in the population—Greenwich Village was an Irish community. As it stands currently, Harlem now has over 275,000 black residents and accounts for sixty percent of NYC’s population (Logan, Zhang, and Chunyu). This concentration of black residency is the outcome of the FHA redlining that occurred in the 1930’s.
In conclusion, racism is what defined the segregation of NYC. The entire formation of NYC was transformed through the act of redlining. Now, Harlem real estate is worth 171% of what it used to be—possibly because of predatory lending (Nonko). Redlining separated those who could get a loan on a home from those who could not. The quality of the homes differed, and blacks were seen as a contagion (Nonko). It was a known fact that neighborhoods with black people in it would be redlined for future lending purposes. Racism built NYC and the segregated neighborhoods prevail to this day.
- Hughes, Langston. Harlem, 1951, www.poetryfoundation.org
- Logan, John R., Weiwei Zhang, and Miao Chunyu. “Emergent Ghettos: Black Neighborhoods in New York and Chicago, 1880–1940.” American Journal of Sociology, 120(4), 2015 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
- Nonko, Emily. “Redlining: How One Racist, Depression-Era Policy Still Shapes New York Real Estate.” Brick Underground, 29 Dec. 2016, www.brickunderground.com
- Plitt, Amy. “The Richest Neighborhoods in New York City.” Curbed, 2017, ny.curbed.com