Legacy of Redlining in Cuyahoga County

Cover map by Kirwan Institute, Ohio State UniversityStory by Amy Sheon

Life Expectancy in Cuyahoga County ranges from 65.3 years to 87.1 years over the space of just a few miles.How did we get here? Understanding historical roots for today's trends is a first step in finding solutions to address this unacceptable health inequity.


After the Depression, efforts made to stabilize housing prices lead to practices that denied services to, or raised rates to residents of certain neighborhoods.  The term "redlining" refers to red lines drawn on maps to indicate areas where banks would not lend.  Neighborhoods were colored green, or labeled as "Type A" if the housing stock was new and residents were affluent.  Neighborhood assessors often cited restrictive covenants as reinforcing investment-worthiness.  Type B neighborhoods, colored in blue, were considered "Still Desirable".  Older Type C neighborhoods, colored yellow, were considered "Declining," often due to the presence of immigrants. Type D neighborhoods tended to be older houses in urban cores heavily populated with Black residents. Officials marked these areas in red if investments were to be avoided.  A common reason recorded by neighborhood assessors for redlining was the  "infiltration of undesirables" including "Negros," Jews, and most immigrant populations.  On the other hand, neighborhoods with strong "covenants" to restrict who could live there were seen as advantageous and colored green.  Blue and yellow were in between. 

Racial Segregation in Cleveland

In Cleveland today, neighborhoods are very segregated.  As you can see, a considerable number of neighborhoods have no African Americans living in them, and only about one third of neighborhoods have at least 20% of the minority population.  

Quotations from Neighborhood Assessors circa 1940

"The better people are slowly moving out....Trend is rapidly downward.  Accordingly, the area is given a very poor fourth grade rating."  

-HOLC Assessor

"Very desirable section; good type of people; predominantly Catholic neighborhood...Reputed to be a thrifty class of people...Will remain desirable for many years and trend is definitely on the upgrade."

-HOLC Assessor

Lingering Effects of Historic Redlining?

The relationship between redlining in days of yore and health today is interesting.  In the charts that follow, neighborhoods that were completely redlined have a score of 4.  Neighborhoods that were considered "desirable" for lenders have a score of 1.  As you can see, there does not appear to be much of a relationship between historic redlining and cancer today  There is a modest relationship between heart disease and redlining.  Areas that were redlined generally have higher rates of heart disease deaths today.However, the relationship between redlining status in the 1930s and life expectancy today is striking: people living in areas that were previously redlined now die on average 11.5  years earlier than people living in areas that were not redlined. 

Internet Access--Modern Redlining?

The charts at at right and below show that high speed internet is not equally available to all. Neighborhoods in which 80+ % of residents have internet speeds of 10+MBPS score 5; 60-80%=4, 40-60% = 3, 20-40%=2, 1-20%=1; no internet=0.  There is a clear relationship between the proportion of residence in a census tract that are Black and the proportion that have high speed internet.Internet Service Providers are prohibited from making decisions about where to make high speed internet available based on the race or income of residents.  You be the judge.