When Did Redlining Become Illegal? Tracing the History of a Discriminatory Practice

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Redlining, the discriminatory practice where services (like banking and insurance) are denied or made more expensive to residents of certain areas based on racial or ethnic composition, has a contentious history in the United States. This article explores when redlining became illegal and the legislative actions taken to address this injustice.

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Historical Context of Redlining

Redlining began in the 1930s when the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC), a federal agency, created “residential security maps” to evaluate the risk associated with loans made to specific urban neighborhoods. Areas predominantly inhabited by African Americans and other minorities were often marked in red to indicate a high risk, leading to a systemic denial of financial services.

Legislation Against Redlining

The practice of redlining was officially outlawed by several key pieces of federal legislation:

1. The Civil Rights Act of 1964
While primarily known for prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 laid the groundwork for later laws directly targeting discriminatory lending practices.

2. The Fair Housing Act of 1968
Part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, the Fair Housing Act made it illegal to discriminate in housing-related transactions on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. This act addressed discrimination in renting, selling, and financing of homes but did not explicitly ban redlining.

3. The Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974
This act prohibited discrimination by lenders against credit applicants on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age, or because they receive public assistance.

4. The Home Mortgage Disclosure Act of 1975
The Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (HMDA) required lenders to publicly disclose their mortgage lending practices, which helped identify discriminatory lending patterns, including redlining.

5. The Community Reinvestment Act of 1977
Perhaps the most direct attack on redlining, the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) required banks to meet the credit needs of the communities in which they operate, including low- and moderate-income neighborhoods, and helped ensure that banks would serve all segments of their communities.

Impact and Enforcement

The enforcement of these laws has varied, with numerous banks and financial institutions being investigated for continuing discriminatory practices even after these laws were enacted. Regulatory agencies like the Federal Reserve, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC), and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) are responsible for monitoring banks’ compliance with these laws.

Modern Challenges and Continuation of Redlining

Despite the legal framework to combat redlining, allegations of this practice persist. Modern-day redlining often manifests through subtler means but still results in disproportionate denial of services to minority communities. Continued vigilance and enforcement efforts are required to fully eradicate the remnants of redlining.


Redlining became officially illegal with the passage of several federal laws from the mid-1960s through the late 1970s, culminating with the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977. These laws were enacted to ensure that all individuals, regardless of race or ethnicity, have equal access to housing and financial services. The battle against redlining is a testament to the ongoing struggle against systemic racism in the United States.

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