Blogging Bayport Alameda

May 27, 2014

Is that a threat

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:07 am

If you haven’t read or heard about the Atlantic piece by Ta-Nehisi Coates you’ve probably been living in a cave or something.   If you haven’t read it, I really urge you to do so as it is an amazing piece of journalism.   Read past the title and get into the nut meat of it.  Do it, I’ll wait.

I’ll probably write in more detail about the Coates piece on another day (and seamlessly tie it into Alameda too! or at least try) but for now, something else…

As an accompaniment to that piece there was another Atlantic piece by Alexis Madrigal about an academic project called T-RACES, or Testbed for for the Redlining Archives of California’s Exclusionary Spaces.   To nutshell this project overlay the grading system given by the Federal Housing Administration in 1934 to different neighborhoods when considering loan guarantees.  From the piece:

Otherwise celebrated for making homeownership accessible to white people by guaranteeing their loans, the FHA explicitly refused to back loans to black people or even other people who lived near black people.

The maps are probably one of the more impressive maps projects that I have seen.   The whole of the north side of Alameda was redlined and deemed an unsafe investment because of the infiltration of “Lower classes, Orientals, etc.”   That section was deemed also an unsafe investment because of the 3% of Black families that resided in the area.

On the east end a few of the neighborhoods were marked as yellow because of the existence of Black families.   Such as C41 which had a total of three black families.  Not 3%, just three so it was deemed a “low yellow” because of the “infiltration of colored families.”

One of the larger swaths C40 only had one Black family, but because of the existence of that Black family a notation was made on an adjoining parcel B44 which was rated a high blue (this is a good rating) but under “Detrimental Influences” it was noted that: “Proximity to unfavorable influences. Some poor, Old homes adjoining to north and one colored family nearby.”

Also according to the descriptions of the parcels, the west end neighborhoods were under consistent “oriental threat” of infiltration and a threat that Black people might move in.


  1. Redlining is history. It’s over.

    Comment by A Neighbor — May 27, 2014 @ 9:33 am

  2. It may be history but I’m sure you are aware that the effects of history are still being felt today. Did you read the article?

    Comment by alexstar — May 27, 2014 @ 9:36 am

  3. Lauren, it is an amazing piece of journalism. It shows us how we got where we are today. I’ll share more of my thoughts later.

    Comment by Karen Bey — May 27, 2014 @ 10:25 am

  4. Realize you are talking about the 1930s. Then the Great Integrator happened…World War Two. Richmond shipyards. Kaiser industries. & oh yeah, Alameda NAS.

    But, I was told, I was almost killed as a child when someone threw a rake thru my parents’ window because they refused to sign a petition to keep a Japanese couple from moving into the Gold Coast. Today, the Japanese resident is still here, having outlived everyone else in the neighborhood.

    Comment by vigi — May 27, 2014 @ 10:28 am

  5. Lauren: The same redlining existed in Berkeley, that bastion of conservative thought — the current MLK was the dividing line.

    Comment by Darcy Morrison — May 27, 2014 @ 11:20 am

  6. OK, I posted B4 reading the Atlantic article-still haven’t [it’s 50 pages]. But what is even more edifying is the joint UC Irvine/UNC project it links to. To appreciate what Lauren is talking about, you must Click here:

    Click on area A6 [Montclair] or (even worse) A7 [Piedmont=”Restricted to Caucasians=One of the best residential districts of the East Bay area”] for comparison to Alameda’s ratings.

    And realize that ALPRs just might be a move toward bringing those segregated spaces back, in the 21st century. There’s a reason ALPRs have been embraced by Piedmont, Tiburon, & Orange County…

    Comment by vigi — May 27, 2014 @ 11:55 am

  7. @#1 – Redlining is not over. I can give you a detailed description of the challenges I faced as an educated and financially successful African American attempting to purchase a home in Alameda during the housing boom. In 2005, my wife and I attempted to purchase a house in Alameda. We each had excellent credit, were pre-approved for a mortgage that exceeded the purchase price of the homes, and had 20% cash for the down payments. Each time we went to an open house, the seller’s agent treated us warmly. However, we were consistently “overbid.” While we significantly overbid on the properties during the counteroffer process, our offers were still never selected. On four of the five houses, we later learned that our offer was higher than the selling price of the home. On the sixth home, the seller’s agent (from a very reputable real estate agency in Alameda) gave my agent some “special guidance.” She told my real estate agent (a non-African American) that we may want to do a “private tour” of the house and avoid coming to the open house. That was very telling. Needless to say, we did not get the sixth home either. Again, our counteroffer was higher than the selling price of the home. On our seventh attempt, we were finally “steered” to a fixer property in one of Alameda’s less desirable neighborhoods. Guess what? Our offer was accepted. I have always wanted to believe that throughout my academic and corporate life, I have been judged by the content of my character and not the color of my skin. This experience in 2005 reminded me that racism is still as pervasive and surreptitious today as it was in the 1950s.

    Comment by Tyrone — May 27, 2014 @ 12:02 pm

  8. Area D-4 = “Negro Piedmont” ??? You’re right, Lauren-great post! This will keep me entertained for a while. Or should I say, it would be hilarious if it wasn’t so heartbreakingly true..

    Comment by vigi — May 27, 2014 @ 12:03 pm

  9. Is there a legend for what each color on the map indicates? I live in what was area 61 which is black on the map. It looks like this might be considered industrial because it includes Park Street but it also includes Jackson Park.

    Very interesting article in the Atlantic. At the heart of this issue, of course is greed, as it so often is in this country. The idea that the bottom line excuses a multitude of sins against humanity has long been and continues to be a major problem in our society. Buying low from the desperate and selling high to those desperate for the dream is still very much a reality and still absolutely legal. Laws can be written to prevent shady dealing or to aid it. Too few of our citizens seem to care about these things unless it impacts them directly. Even when it does impact us, how many have the resolve to challenge it?

    After we purchased our house in 1988, we continued to be in touch with the seller (who had moved out of state) to tie up lose ends in the transaction. One day she told me she was so glad we got the house, even though they sold it for a little less than they could have. “A lot of Asians were interested,” she said. “But we just couldn’t do that to our neighbors.” The seller was in her 60s and had grown up on the street. Was she talking about property values? I think she must have been. Many of her neighbors would soon be selling to sail off into retirement. My husband and I were stunned. The deal was done, but I often wonder if we had heard this from her at the Open House, if we would have pursued the purchase. I suspect we would have because, the prejudice was hers, not ours. It bothers me that we did benefit from it, though. Is it karma for having to endure all the Polish jokes and then, when I lived in England, the Irish ones? I don’t think so. There is no karmic balance sheet that makes up for the woes we visit upon each other. It is a reminder that we are kidding ourselves if we think this is in the past. Clearly, this woman who was a child when these redlining maps were made, carried that message throughout her life and visited it upon future generations. Attitudes endure even after the laws are changed.

    Where we grew up, in upstate New York, there were very few non-white people. The prejudice was there, mostly toward Italians, Puerto Ricans and other Catholics but not so deep seated that violence was tolerated or people were refused home loans, etc. (Although, maybe I just hadn’t heard about it. On a Facebook page for people who grew up in my hometown, stories have begun to trickle in, but many people were not aware of any prejudice and, in a very small town, people are reluctant to point fingers, even years after everyone involved is dead.)

    Language barriers and the desire to preserve traditions caused many immigrants to ghettoize themselves to a certain extent in years past, just as today there are pockets of ethnic neighborhoods that have nothing to do with poverty or redlining, yet this practice also adds to the fear and ignorance.

    I suppose the greater the number of those in the minority, the greater the perceived threat. Now, white families are finding themselves a minority in some places. It will be interesting to see if other races treat us better, or if once again, greed will be the order of the day.

    Comment by Denise Shelton — May 27, 2014 @ 12:47 pm

  10. Denise:

    Forgot to link to the Madrigal piece:

    “Green areas are “hot spots”; they are not yet fully built up. In nearly all instances they are the new well planned sections of the city, and almost synonymous with the areas where good mortgage lenders with available funds are willing to make their maximum loans to be amortized over a 10-15-year period — perhaps up to 75-80% of the appraisal. They are homogeneous; in demand as residential locations in “good time” or “bad”; hence on the upgrade”.

    “Blue areas, as a rule, are completely developed. They are like a 1935 automobile still good, but not what the people are buying today who can afford a new one. They are the neighborhoods where good mortgage lenders will have a tendency to hold loan commitments 10-15% under the limit.”

    “Yellow areas are characterized by age, obsolescence, and change of style; expiring restrictions or lack of them; infiltration of a lower grade population; the presence of influences which increase sales resistance such as inadequate transportation, insufficient utilities, perhaps heavy tax burdens, poor maintenance of homes, etc. “Jerry” built areas are included, as well as neighborhoods lacking homogeneity. Generally, these areas have reached the transition period. Good mortgage lenders are more conservative in the Yellow areas and hold loan commitments under the lending ratio for the Green and Blue areas.

    “Red areas represent those neighborhoods in which the things that are now taking place in the Yellow neighborhoods, have already happened. They are characterized by detrimental influences in a pronounced degree, undesirable population or infiltration of it. Low percentage of home ownership, very poor maintenance and often vandalism prevail. Unstable incomes of the people and difficult collections are usually prevalent. The areas are broader than the so-called slum districts. Some mortgage lenders may refuse to make loans in these neighborhoods and other will lend only on a conservative basis.”

    Comment by Lauren Do — May 27, 2014 @ 12:58 pm

  11. @#9 – Thank you for sharing your experience. It helps to know we are not alone.

    Comment by Tyrone — May 27, 2014 @ 1:11 pm

  12. 7. This is what I’m talking about. You can change the laws, but nothing compels the seller to take the highest price. In many of these cases, it is not the law or the real estate folks driving this discrimination. It is the twisted hearts of individuals, whose prejudice is so strong, they act on it to their own financial detriment, and then pat themselves on the back that they are giving their neighbors a parting gift. At the end of the day, Tyrone, you may still come out ahead. Those HOA fees (designed specifically to keep out a “certain element”) can be put to better use improving your property on your own terms. Let them have their ticky tacky houses in their “desirable” neighborhoods, where they have to get in the car to go anywhere and uncapped Mello-Roos fees abound. Fear is the mind killer. Life is so much better without it.

    Comment by Denise Shelton — May 27, 2014 @ 1:13 pm

  13. However Denise, that’s the opposite of what the Coates article is trying to get across. That’s it’s not just a bunch of small minded bigots that has brought America to the place it is now, excerpt:

    An honest assessment of America’s relationship to the black family reveals the country to be not its nurturer but its destroyer.

    And this destruction did not end with slavery. Discriminatory laws joined the equal burden of citizenship to unequal distribution of its bounty. These laws reached their apex in the mid-20th century, when the federal government—through housing policies—engineered the wealth gap, which remains with us to this day. When we think of white supremacy, we picture Colored Only signs, but we should picture pirate flags.

    Black nationalists have always perceived something unmentionable about America that integrationists dare not acknowledge—that white supremacy is not merely the work of hotheaded demagogues, or a matter of false consciousness, but a force so fundamental to America that it is difficult to imagine the country without it.

    Comment by Lauren Do — May 27, 2014 @ 1:20 pm

  14. The article is powerful, informative and thought provoking. It certainly has taken far too long for many changes to take place in this country, and I believe it will be many years before true change takes place in regards to acceptance of minorities. Like others, I feel disappointed in our progress, but am not sure what to do about it beyond being accepting myself and doing my best to respect others, no matter what their nationality, color or language is.

    Comment by William — May 27, 2014 @ 2:01 pm

  15. The article speaks to something larger. It speaks to insitutional policies that negatively target or impact a specific group or groups of people.

    One example are the CCR’s that were recorded as deed restrictions to keep minorities out of the Fernside District in Alameda– and perhaps the Gold Coast as well.

    I was told by an Alameda Realtor in the early 1980’s that I could live anywhere I wanted in Alameda but the Gold Coast – she told me the Gold Coast was off limits. Later, when I received my inheritance from my mother I made an offer on a house in the Gold Coast that she had listed. I wanted not only to send a message to her – but I wanted to move through the mental barrier she had created for me. My offer was not accepted, but it felt good non- the-less.

    Tyrone, you’re not alone. It takes a lot of courage to be a pioneer – but don’t give up. It’s worth it in the end.

    Comment by Karen Bey — May 27, 2014 @ 2:29 pm

  16. 7:

    When we first tried to buy in the area we were outbid 9 times, with solid credit and a large down payment (approx 30% if memory serves). Eventually the agent encouraged us to look in the West End where the overbidding was less frothy. There we bought.

    Being blond haired and blue eyed, I allege no discrimination other than price, who is a harsh mistress and equally cruel to all certified checks, the writers’ pigments notwithstanding. Perhaps that is what you experienced, Tyrone.

    You say that lower offers were accepted, and I acknowledge that would sting me if I were in your shoes, but you may not have been aware of other issues, such as inspection contingencies and negotiations over section 1 pest reports, closing date etc. Those things can affect price, sometimes substantially.

    To be clear I do not dispute the historical issues here: housing discrimination was indeed enshrined in Federal code. Nor do I dispute the presence of bigotry today (I’m from the Deep South and have witnessed vicious instances of it). I simply suggest that in a sellers’ market, indeed in any market, sellers act in their economic interests far more reliably than they act out of bigotry.

    Comment by dave — May 27, 2014 @ 2:34 pm

  17. #12, #15, and #16, thank you. Instead of being bitter about the whole situation, I tried to make lemonade out of a “lemon” (no pun intended). My wife and I loved Alameda so much that we bought that fixer in the less desirable neighborhood in 2006. With the money we saved from paying the HOA fees all those years, we fixed the house up. The neighborhood has improved and will hopefully continue to do so. When I read comments like yours, I remember why I moved to Alameda.

    Comment by Tyrone — May 27, 2014 @ 3:03 pm

  18. 13. My point is that sometimes it’s the laws and “customs” and sometimes, even after they are changed, the old ways endure because of the way people have been programmed. It’s easy to be open-minded unless you have good reason to believe that your generosity of spirit can hurt you financially. We are all bigots to some degree, be it over race, religion, income, education, or what football team you favor. We all need to work against our programming, much of which may have been unintentional, but still harmful. These laws and attitudes are perpetuated by individual bias, which is why it has been so difficult to combat them with legislation. My comments are not at all contrary to the article, I just attempted to highlight a key point in the dynamic: the hearts and minds of Americans, that I don’t think the author spent enough time discussing. Too many people say, “Oh, but that’s in the past,” when for many, expressing those opinions publicly is in the past, but the feelings behind them are still an issue..

    Comment by Denise Shelton — May 27, 2014 @ 6:56 pm

  19. Karen and Tyrone, aren’t you guys more happy living in, I assume the West End. I’ve been here 71 years and I could never leave even for the Gold Coast.

    Comment by John P. — May 27, 2014 @ 7:40 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: