By Maura Mulholland
In an era of city planning and zoning laws, most Americans fail to understand how much capital investment determines the viability of certain homes and neighborhoods. Money flowing into and out of neighborhoods determines how many amenities, public funding, and private interest they receive, and the futures of these places are affected by how much potential they have in terms of a profitable return on investment. When these neighborhoods are labeled as “unprofitable”, or not worth investing in, they are doomed to be cast to the sidelines of society, with retail chains, businesses, and banks largely avoiding them for fear of limited profit margins.
In the United States, neighborhoods with a high African American population have faced discrimination in property capital investment. This process is called “redlining”, and was a legal practice in minority neighborhoods for much of the 20th century that created an economic and social barrier that made social mobility nearly impossible. In the process of redlining, neighborhoods were assigned “value”, or the potential for a return on investment, that directly correlated with the racial demographics in the area. In white neighborhoods, it was easy to procure a low-interest mortgage, regardless of the applicants’ income level. For Black neighborhoods, even those that had upper- or middle-class incomes, loans and mortgages were nearly impossible to acquire, and often had absurdly high interest rates.
The systematic sabotage of Black neighborhoods led to dire consequences for their residents. As Black and majority-minority neighborhoods faced a deficit in investment levels, food deserts developed. Large retail chains, including supermarkets, were unwilling to open franchises in majority-minority neighborhoods due to the racial makeup of the neighborhoods and the impractically high financial cost of establishing a business there. Because these neighborhoods did not have access to affordable, nutritious food, they commonly became dependent on fast-food chains and processed food available at neighborhood convenience stores. The health of Black communities suffered immensely as a result.
The domino effects of the practice of redlining are legion. Poor nutrition caused by food deserts led to poor health, which led to higher insurance rates for people of color, which in turn led to a disproportionate percentage of people of color who lack health insurance. This lack of health insurance also contributed to a higher rates of Covid-19 in traditionally marginalized neighborhoods. Redlining and its effects have proved incredibly detrimental for communities comprised of minorities, and have only increased the stratification that exists between white and black communities.