We Built This: Consequences of New Deal Era Intervention in America’s Racial Geography

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The contemporary practice of homeownership in the United States was born out of government programs adopted during the New Deal. The Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC)—and later the Federal Housing Administration and GI Bill—expanded home buying opportunity, although in segregationist fashion. Through mechanisms such as redlining, these policies fueled white suburbanization and black ghettoization, while laying the foundation for the racial wealth gap. This is the first article to investigate the long-term consequences of these policies on the segregation of cities. I combine a full century of census data with archival data to show that cities HOLC appraised became more segregated than those it ignored. The gap emerged between 1930 and 1950 and remains significant: in 2010, the black-white dissimilarity, black isolation, and white-black information theory indices are 12, 16, and 8 points higher in appraised cities, respectively. Results are consistent across a range of robustness checks, including exploitation of imperfect implementation of appraisal guidelines and geographic spillover. These results contribute to current theoretical discussions about the persistence of segregation. The long-term impact of these policies is a reminder of the intentionality that shaped racial geography in the United States, and the scale of intervention that will be required to disrupt the persistence of segregation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)739-775
Number of pages37
JournalAmerican sociological review
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1 2020


  • New Deal
  • housing
  • public policy
  • redlining
  • segregation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


Dive into the research topics of 'We Built This: Consequences of New Deal Era Intervention in America’s Racial Geography'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this