April 21, 2022

Facing the Legacy of Redlining in Spokane

What is Redlining?

Redlining | A ranking system that categorizes neighborhoods as more or less impoverished largely based on the race of the residents. Government maps were created so that banks could determine where it was a “safe” bet to lend money to residents. 

The Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) and the Federal Home Loan Bank Board used maps like the one below to create a system for discriminating against targeted city residents across the nation, largely based on race. Areas with more Black and brown residents were frequently outlined or highlighted in red. These maps, called “Residential Security Maps,” were utilized by lenders, loan officers, and real estate workers to decipher which neighborhoods they were more likely to get a return on their investments in. 

As you can see below in the map from 1929, areas of Spokane were categorized into “grades” – the first grade in green signified the lowest risk for lending, and the fourth grade, indicated in red, signified a “hazardous” risk area for lending. Banks used these maps to determine whether or not to grant loans, which are oftentimes necessary when renovating or purchasing property, or creating a business. Without this opportunity to secure a mortgage or business loan, a vast majority of Americans would not be able to build their wealth through ownership of assets to help families create intergenerational wealth. With 64.8 % of homes currently on a mortgage, obtaining a loan is the biggest challenge potential homeowners face.  

Impacts of Redlining in Spokane

Even today we still clearly see the impacts of redlining across Spokane’s neighborhoods. Spokane residents are typically familiar with the main neighborhoods within our city, and the socioeconomic assumptions that are made about these areas. The South Hill is known for its wealth and abundance of resources, especially, while North East Central has historically been an underserved and under-resourced area. These stereotypes don’t come from nowhere, but rather, they reflect the harsh realities that have come out of restrictive housing covenants, inequitable and unfair lending practices, and more from our history. 

In the South Hill area, particularly the Comstock neighborhood, racially restrictive housing covenants were a common practice. Housing deeds had language stating that, “No race or nationality other than the white race shall use or occupy any building on any lot.” These housing covenants were not exclusive to the South Hill area, and many sectors of Spokane still have language like this remaining on their housing deeds today. The impact of this residential race segregation is still felt today as we recognize that the areas with these deeds remain majority white. Efforts homeowners have taken to remove this language have not gone unnoticed; however they have largely been unsuccessful as The Washington State Court of Appeals has ruled that “Spokane County does not have the authority to remove racist provisions from home deeds and titles, even if they’re illegal and void.

The East Central neighborhood has been divided by the highway since I-90 was extended through Spokane following the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956. Deciding to put the highway through a neighborhood that was predominantly populated by Black and immigrant families, and considered Spokane’s “poorest and most diverse neighborhood, the highway cuts off connection between residents and businesses on either side, making it difficult for businesses on the north side of the highway to reach patrons living on the other side, which results from a combination of factors, including the price of land and the lack of political power that these areas tend to have to resist harmful development. This is consistent with studies across the nation that state “the victims of highway building tended to be overwhelmingly poor and Black.” The development not only cut off residents from businesses, giving them no decent route across the interstate, but it also took away some of the most beautiful parts of the neighborhood, such as Liberty Park

Early on in Spokane’s history, the East Central area had a bustling workforce and was rapidly becoming a growing micro-economy. However, since the South Hill and Browne’s Addition neighborhoods held Spokane’s wealthier residents, they weren’t hit as hard by the Great Depression, and by the 1950’s, our East Central, West Central, and Hillyard neighborhoods struggled financially. 

Get Involved

Today, organizations like the Spokane Eastside Reunion Association (SERA) are working to bring community and opportunity to the East Central area, making it once again a unified and bustling micro-economy within the larger community of Spokane. The Carl Maxey Center has also been working to help bring this reunification of the east side of Spokane, helping to empower local Black entrepreneurs with business support, in addition to the many other programs they offer. 

While the impacts of redlining and residential race segregation still impact our local economies, we can come together to empower and grow our communities. We can rebuild something beautiful, powerful, and sustainable by investing in the areas that our government and systems have historically taken power away from. 

If you have…

5 Minutes


15 Minutes


20 minutes

and and
Check out Spokane Community Against Racism’s
housing page
, and learn more about housing justice and equity.
and Explore this interactive map
showing Race and Segregation
over the last 70 years, created by UW’s Civil Rights and Labor History Consortium.
and Read the introduction to Neighborhoods Matter,
a collection by Spokane Regional
Health District’s Neighborhoods Matter Project & Frank Oesterheld

To dive deeper check out these additional resources…

Stand Against Racism 2022

To learn more about the legacy of housing discrimination sign up for Stand Against Racism 2022! Our discussion this year will be centered on housing and economic equity. You can attend this event virtually, in-person, or watch the recording after the event.


By: Rachel Dannen

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