How redlining practices affect the health of Salt Lake City’s west-side communities


The link between housing location and race in Salt Lake City is not coincidental. Discriminatory real estate practices, loan programs and local city ordinances created segregation in a practice called redlining. 

In the 1930s the Home Owners’ Loan Corp. (HOLC), with help from local banks, real estate agents and city officials, designed a map outlining which neighborhoods they deemed ineligible for home loans.  

The criteria used for grading these neighborhoods were age, housing upkeep and public amenities. If neighborhoods had high minority concentrations they were outlined in red, regardless of other criteria. Although redlining is illegal now, it still affects our community. 

An example of local redlining in the 1930s. Credit: Robert K. Nelson, LaDale Winling, Richard Marciano, Nathan Connolly, et al., Mapping Inequality: Redlining in New Deal America.

Four local leaders discussed the problems it has caused and offered ideas to redress inequities in a panel discussion held Jan. 20 at the University of Utah. “Reframing the Conversation: Good Trouble and the Redline” was among the events offered during the annual campus-wide celebration of MLK Week. 

Franci Taylor, the director of the U’s American Indian Resource Center, explained that people living around Rose Park, Poplar Grove and Liberty Wells, all redlined areas on the west side of Salt Lake City, were denied mortgages. However, HOLC readily gave loans to those living in the Sugar House and Avenues neighborhoods, and near the U.

Redlining west-side communities has had greater consequences than access to home loans. 

Freeways bypass many of these Salt Lake City neighborhoods, which causes health repercussions for the people living there. Panelist Ashley Cleveland, a city planner for Salt Lake City, said members of her family and community who grew up on the west side have asthma and other diseases connected to environmental factors. 

Ciriac Alvarez Valle, another panelist, underscored Cleveland’s anecdote by noting that these redlined neighborhoods have higher rates of chronic illnesses, infant mortality and health disparities. To make matters worse, there are no hospitals on the west side.

Hospitals aren’t the only outlying amenity for west Salt Lake City. Neighborhoods in this area also are characterized by fewer schools, parks and grocery stores. “The conditions of the environments where people are born, where people learn, where people live, where people worship are the things that affect the quality of life,” Valle said.

The panelists discussed what U students could do to combat the effects of redlining. Cleveland recommended reading publications about city planning, housing, and environment. She urged students to sit on Salt Lake City’s Community Council. Additionally, the U offers community-involvement opportunities like the Bennion Center, The Hinkley Institute of Politics, and University Neighborhood Partners.

The panelist Fatima Dirie runs a program called Know Your Neighbor. She urged students to volunteer and get connected with individuals from minority communities. “Really hear their lens and their story from their own perspective,” she said.

The panel, held virtually this year due to the pandemic, concluded with Cleveland’s endorsement of a quote by Gregory Squires, a professor of public policy and public administration at George Washington University. In a 2007 article he linked housing patterns to general economic inequalities and said, “Where different groups of people live and the homes in which they live are not simply neutral or random demographic phenomena. They profoundly influence the allocation of rewards in the United States.”

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