The New Redline is in Red Ink

Red Lining was a practice of mortgage companies, insurance providers, and even the federal government to restrict certain city areas from getting loans or services. The term came from the use of red ink to identify neighborhoods on maps. It started in the 1930s and didn’t end until the 60s. The practice “identified” areas where residents were more likely to default on mortgages. In a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, the effect was to make those areas less desirable for investment. Without investment, they deteriorated, causing a decline in the health of those who lived there, an increase in crime, and reduced economic opportunity.


Areas redlined were often where people of color lived.


Now, a different kind of redlining is taking place. You can’t see the lines this time because no one is selecting impacted neighborhoods. The invisible lines are around whole cities. If you could see it, the ink would still be red because we talk about debt that overwhelms a household going into the red, or red ink.


Real estate is so expensive in Boise and many other Idaho cities that first-time homebuyers cannot afford a mortgage, even though mortgage interest rates are historically low. Buying a home would put them in the red.


The redlining of years past made it all but impossible for some people to build generational wealth. Today’s rocketing home prices are also preventing people from building up equity.


Renters are in the same squeeze, whether they want to own a home or not. Rents are increasing to the point that it eats into a family’s budget, with a larger percentage of their income going to pay for housing than is wise. But what can they do? If they try to move, they’re likely to find higher prices than they already pay. They’re stuck.


When I’m knocking on doors in District 15 neighborhoods, I hear story after story about hard times due to unaffordable housing. Adult children are moving back in with their parents. Others who don’t have that option rent a room for $800 to $1000 a month. A room. Not many years ago, you could have rented a house for that. I talked with one apartment renter who told me that when they recently purchased a car, being able to in it during a financial emergency was a significant consideration.


The market forces causing this are not likely to cool off anytime soon. We must seize any opportunity to create decent workforce housing and affordable housing options for low-to-moderate-income Idahoans. The red ink in family budgets will hold back much of a whole generation.