What you need to know about redlining and gentrification

September 5, 2018

Redlining was first imposed upon the passing of the National Housing Act of 1934. The act created the government-sponsored Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, which was commissioned by the federal government to create “residential security maps” of 239 major cities across the United States. The HOLC was to create the districts in each city based on perceived level of “desirability,” but according to the 2006 book Sundown Towns, many Federal Housing Administration publications contained language that promoted segregation and considered the presence of high minority populations to be an equally “undesirable” trait as the presence of something like smog, odor, or fog. All non-Northern European races and ethnicities were considered to be undesirable.

Districts on the map were assigned either red, yellow, blue, or green coloring. Red and yellow were associated with “hazardous,” typically low-income and majority-minority districts, while blue and green indicated “desirable,” generally white and higher-income districts. These indicators were used by banks as a barometer for who should be able to easily receive housing-related loans and stymied investment in minority neighborhoods for decades until the practice ended in 1968.

What is the legacy of redlining?

In the 1950s and 1960s, droves of white, wealthy families moved out of the cities and into the suburbs in a phenomenon known as “white flight,” taking the wealth with them and seeing many major cities drift into serious poverty and disarray for decades.

Fast forward to present day, and cities are seeing growth for the first time in decades. This along with the current housing shortage have caused city governments to turn to gentrifying lower-income communities to attract wealth and in-migration. The vast majority of these targeted communities are the same communities that were redlined in the mid-20th century, making those who suffered the hardships of the discriminatory actions of the past the same groups of people presently being adversely impacted by the surface-level “fixing” of these once-exiled communities.

This makes the lasting effects of redlining complicated to define. A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago found that redlining had a “causal and persistent effect on the development of neighborhoods through credit access” and that historically-redlined neighborhoods had a “long-run decline of home ownership, house values, and credit scores.”

However, this plays out differently from city to city. Cities like Los Angeles and San Diego, which saw much of their growth in the postwar 1945-1960 period, tend to have much higher median property value disparities between formerly redlined and non-redlined areas, because redlined areas make up a much smaller percentage of overall property in said cities.

But in cities like Boston, median property values of formerly redlined properties are actually higher than those of non-redlined properties. Another factor in this is the way the cities are designed, as more concentrated cities (typically on the eastern half of the United States) have more historically redlined areas closer to the heart of downtown, making property values higher than in places where those properties now often sit toward the edges of city limits. While higher property values are not necessarily a directly negative consequence of redlining, incumbent residents of those areas tend to be displaced at a higher rate because they are either bought out or unable to afford to live in their newly-expensive neighborhoods.

What is gentrification?

Gentrification is a process where a blighted or impoverished area sees a wave of real estate investment and higher-income migration. The process typically sees lower-educated, minority-majority communities displaced and replaced by more well-educated, typically young, white communities that are seeking to move to a city’s up-and-coming hot spots.

These revitalization projects typically have some sort of formula to them, featuring multiple rustic-modern coffee shops, restored two-story mixed-use brick buildings, renovated mid-century craftsman homes, and features that are now symbols of the “up-and-coming neighborhood.”

What’s so bad about gentrification?

In a sense, nothing. The concept of improved buildings and infrastructure, lower crime rates, and an increase in a population’s wealth is not inherently bad. Where the issue arises is that gentrification is often about redemption of place over redemption of people. Displacement is frequently a consequence when a city gentrifies a neighborhood; members of the pre-existing community are priced out of neighborhoods their families have sometimes lived in for generations.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the United States has a shortage of 7.2 million affordable rental homes for extremely low-income renters, meaning the options for the displaced are few. The NLIHC defines “extremely low income renters” as those who are either below the poverty line or who make 30 percent or less than the median income in their area. In Nevada, for example, there were just 15 units available per 100 households that fit this definition, as of March 2018. No state in the nation had more than 59 units available per household, meaning the problem is not just prevalent in high-income coastal cities.

Why should Christians care?

Christians are called to have an indiscriminate love of neighbor (Mark 12:31), and there is no social or political issue where God does not declare, “This belongs to me” (Ps. 24:1). Therefore, we as Christians cannot afford to turn a blind eye to areas that are not in our niches, in the same way that we don’t delegate Christian convictions on marriage or abortion exclusively to pastors or doctors. A post-fall call of the Christian is to “expose the fruitless deeds of darkness” (Eph. 5:11), and to ignore pockets of problems that are not up our respective alleys is to allow darkness to build a stronghold.

What we also come to find is that we cannot comprehensively think about issues like family stability, poverty, education outcomes, unemployment, or health care without incorporating gentrification and displacement.

Even for displaced persons that find independent housing elsewhere, there is still a severance from community: extended family, friends, and church. For many of those who are displaced, it also means having to start over and get connected to government services in a new neighborhood. Displacement is also linked to job loss, which can increase the likelihood of divorce and can also have negative financial consequences for generations. Christians who care about systemic poverty, marriage, church membership, fellowship, and racial issues should mourn with and assist those who have experienced displacement. Not giving topics like gentrification and displacement a seat at the proverbial table when solving other social problems will almost always lead to defective or incomplete solutions.

And perhaps most importantly, the world is urbanizing. In 1950, 30 percent of the world lived in cities. Today, 54 percent live in cities. And by 2050, 2 in 3 people (66 percent) on Earth will live in cities. In a basic mathematical sense, the greatest mission field of the present and future age will be cities. As Tim Keller put it, “The sign of our time is the city. Through worldwide migration to the city, God may be setting the stage for Christian mission’s greatest and perhaps final hour.”

But as people migrate into more urban contexts, it will be easy for Christians to focus on the new incomers, while forgetting those who have long called said cities home, potentially for generations. Spiritually, politically, economically, and socially, Christians must ensure that our love of neighbor transcends trendiness and not leave our equally valuable brothers and sisters behind.

Michael Natelli

Michael Natelli is a senior at the University of Missouri, pursuing his B.A. in Geography. He is also an intern at Trinity Community Church in Columbia, Missouri, and plans to pursue ministry. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24