Redlinging's Lingering Shadows

Housing discrimination shaped Spokane in ways that are still visible today

The East Central is a primary example of the ways that raciallly restricted housing policies altered a neighborhood.

Red, Yellow, Green, and Blue. From the 1930s to the 1960s in Spokane, these colors dictated whether you could obtain an insured mortgage on a home. HOLC maps, or Redlining maps, were color-coded maps that separated neighborhoods by race, housing quality, and income level. The maps red areas were considered the worst and would not be insured. One way an area would become red was the presence of African Americans. Because of this, neighborhoods would deny Black Americans housing by using racial covenants, which could exclude certain races from purchasing, renting, or living in a home unless they were a servant.

East Central was a redlined neighborhood and had the most African American residents out of the districts in Spokane. The neighborhood surrounded Liberty Park, a park that once rivaled Manito Park but had fallen into disrepair as the surrounding housing became increasingly poor and maintenance of the park dropped. Of all the neighborhoods, Spokane chose East Central and several other poor areas to be split by the U.S. Highways Project in the 1950s. 18 acres of the 21-acre park, and many surrounding homes, were sold to the state to make way for I-90. The destruction displaced many families and separated the neighborhood in two. East Central fell into the pattern of demolition for freeways that plagued many previously red neighborhoods.

The loss of nearly all of Liberty Park and much of East Central affects the area to this day. The decreased tree canopy was one of the consequences caused by redlining and the installation of I-90. Due to redlining, the properties in East Central were uninsured, which discouraged house ownership and encouraged renting. Landlords would remove trees from their property because trees needed pricey maintenance, which decreased profits. Liberty Park was one of the few areas in East Central with many trees, but now it was practically gone. Both events hemorrhaged shade in the neighborhood, and in 2022, the East Central tree canopy covered 14-17% of the district. The most affluent neighborhoods boast tree canopy coverage of almost 40%.

A heat map created in the same year as the tree canopy map indicates the east central neighborhood among the areas in Spokane that could be considered a heat island. These areas of Spokane had up to a 13.9° difference in temperature compared to the coolest areas of Spokane. Unsurprisingly, the areas with the least amount of tree canopy were also the hottest areas of Spokane. Redlining's impact on the land it marked also affected the economic status of residents long after its abolition. 1990s maps depicting unemployment and where minorities tended to live showed that rates of unemployment higher than 20% overlapped neighborhoods where minority populations lived. In most of the U.S. as well as Spokane, rent was just too high for black residents and other minorities to save money to move. If they tried, they would be pushed back into redlined areas by neighborhoods that feared black people would lead to declining property values and more redlining.

With little hope of finding housing elsewhere, black Spokanites stayed primarily in East Central until the 1980s despite the creation of the Fair Housing Act in 1968. Gradually, black residents began migrating out of East Central and the Liberty Park neighborhood in the 1990s. While the scars of redlining in East Central and other districts like East Sprague remain, the integration of Spokane housing has diversified the entire city.



Arial View of I-90 Freeway Construction, 1967tif / 709.31 kB Download