Historic redlining practices could increase chances of suffering from asthma

Tiffany Nguyen/Staff

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The asthma hospitalization rate for African American children under age 5 is 10 times higher than the rate among white children in Berkeley, according to the Berkeley Public Health Division.

Research presented May 22 by the UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program found that people who live in historically redlined areas are more than twice as likely to go to an emergency room for asthma. According to the study, breathing complications can be genetic, but they can also be developed through exposure to environmental pollutants and certain living conditions.

According to the Berkeley Public Health Division, “about 80% of our health is influenced by the environments around us which include social, economic factors, and every day behaviors.”

“This dramatic health inequity may be explained in large part by the fact that higher proportions of African Americans and Latinos live in the poorest, most polluted areas and often lack access to quality housing,” the Berkeley Public Health Division said in an email.

According to the Federal Reserve Board’s Consumer Compliance Handbook, prior to 1968, banks could refuse to give people credit based on the area in which they lived. Banks could also screen applicants based on race, religion, national origin and marital status and deny them credit, even if an applicant was creditworthy.

Legislation in 1968 aimed to change this. According to the Consumer Compliance Handbook, the Fair Housing Act was created to secure the right to housing and to prohibit those screening practices, which had come to be called redlining.

According to the Testbed for the Redlining Archives of California’s Exclusionary Spaces, or T-RACES, an area would historically be redlined for having a low percentage of home ownership, a population with a generally unstable income, poor maintenance and vandalism. Qualities that caused banks to see some zones as more desirable than others included having well-planned sections of the city and good mortgage lenders with available funds.

With the goal of reducing the difference in life quality between areas, the Community Bank of the Bay was founded to address redlining and other discriminatory practices by financial service industries, according to the president and CEO of the bank, William Keller.

Keller believes that banks are investing in people who want to move in to those communities but are not investing as much in the residents who have lived there for years.

In Berkeley, the area that was most affected by redlining was Southwest Berkeley, which by 1940 was home to almost all of the city’s nonwhite population, according to Charles Wollenberg, author of “Berkeley: A City in History.”

Wollenberg pointed out that even the Berkeley Hills, which remain predominantly white, experienced effective “fair housing” efforts around the 1960s.

“The flatlands, including southwest Berkeley, have been significantly re-integrated, though this is as much the result of housing economics as civil rights activity,” Wollenberg said in an email.

“Mapping Inequality: Redlining in New Deal America,” a redlining mapping project created by the University of Richmond, divides cities into four categories: “Best/green,” “Still Desirable/blue,” “Definitely Declining/yellow” and “Hazardous/red.”

The university’s map of Oakland shows that only 15 percent of the city sits in the “Best” category. Twenty-seven percent of the city rests in the “Hazardous” section. In San Francisco, the inequality map shows that only 8 percent of the city rests in the “Best” category, while 31 percent of the city is considered “Hazardous.

West Oakland is exposed to some of the highest levels of air pollution in the Bay Area, according to the Environmental Defense Fund.

Margaret Gordon’s family has its roots in West Oakland, and her trouble with asthma as a child piqued her interest in the causes and triggers of the condition, especially when her son and grandchildren began developing asthma as well. Looking for ways to improve quality of life for the residents of West Oakland, Gordon co-founded and co-directed the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project.

Gordon affirmed that “pollution in one side of West Oakland is not the same as pollution on the other side of West Oakland.” According to Gordon, one side of Oakland suffers from redlining, while the other suffers from highways, trucks and port pollution.

“If the port of Oakland and the city of Oakland would come together around the health and safety, that would be something different, but we had not had a plan of action of what is health and safety for this community,” Gordon said.

Jacque Larrainzar from the city of Oakland’s Department of Race and Equity said there is a need for more research in the area.

Larrainzar explained that today, neighborhoods might be impacted by more subtle forms of redlining, as shown by recent discriminatory loan practice settlements in Oakland and issues of “retail redlining,” in which businesses avoid setting up shop in neighborhoods deemed undesirable, furthering racial disparities.

“When government institutions allowed racist policies to be implemented and enforced they send a strong message to those with racial biases,” Larrainzar said in an email. “They were given permission to blame those impacted by racial disparities for the results of policies and practices that damage their wellbeing.”

Contact Yasmin Graeml at [email protected].