Amplify screenshot Credit: Sam Ward/Reveal

As part of Reveal’s multiplatform investigation into modern-day redlining, we deployed a text messaging tool last month to offer localized data to listeners across the United States and collect their feedback and questions.

We call the tool Amplify. It allows us to connect directly with you and send you resources (documents, photos, maps) that complement the reporting.

Since the episode came out on Feb. 17, roughly 6,500 listeners have engaged with our reporters through Amplify. Of those, more than 2,000 posed questions about redlining.

Reporters Byard Duncan, Aaron Glantz and Emmanuel Martinez combed through these questions and answered some of the most common ones below. For more specific questions, Glantz and Martinez tackled them one by one in our studio. (Watch the video at the bottom of this post.)

Many of you asked us about lending patterns in your city or neighborhood. Our interactive Modern-Day Redlining map can help with that.

Here are three questions that it can help you answer:

  1. Are people of color more likely to be turned down for a mortgage in my city than their white counterparts, even when they make the same amount of money?

Zoom into your metro and click on it and the interactive tool will tell you whether that disparity exists in your part of the country. For example, in St. Louis, our analysis found that black applicants were 2.5 times more likely to be denied a conventional mortgage than white applicants.

  1. Does my bank lend to people of color in my city? And how does it compare with other banks here?

After you’ve zoomed into your city, enter the name of the lender you’re curious about in the search box under the word “BANKS.”  

You’ll get a dissection of that lender’s conventional home purchase loan applications in your area, including loans it made and denied, broken down by race and ethnicity. For example, in St. Louis, Wells Fargo denied 8 percent of white loan applicants and 28 percent of black applicants in 2015 and 2016. It made 1,087 loans to white borrowers in those two years and 61 to African Americans.

For even more information on local bank practices, scroll down and see how the lender you’ve chosen compares with the overall market. For example, in St. Louis, Wells Fargo represents 3 percent of the loan market to whites and 5 percent of the loan market to African Americans. This means that even though Wells Fargo makes very few loans to African Americans in St. Louis, the bank actually has a greater share of the black loan market than the white loan market.

  1. Which racial groups are getting loans in my neighborhood and which are getting turned down?

Type your address, or the address that you’re interested in, in the search box in the upper left-hand corner. Let’s say that you live near the Alamo in San Antonio. Type in “300 Alamo Plaza, San Antonio, TX 78205” and this is what you find:

The neighborhood around the Alamo is 63 percent Latino and 31 percent white. But banks and other mortgage lenders made almost four times as many conventional home loans to white borrowers than Latinos in 2015 and 2016.

New era, old pattern

Many of you wanted to learn more about the history of redlining. Our investigation found that lending patterns in Philadelphia and elsewhere today resemble redlining maps drawn across the country by government officials in the 1930s, when lending discrimination was legal.

Back then, surveyors with the federal Home Owners’ Loan Corporation drew lines on maps and colored some neighborhoods red, deeming them “hazardous” for bank lending. Leading causes of risk, according to government officials, included the presence of African Americans or immigrants.

If you want to learn more about historical redlining in your community, the University of Richmond in Virginia has built a tool called Mapping Inequality that allows you to see how neighborhoods were graded in the 1930s.

Also, academic Richard Rothstein has written the definitive book on the legacy of segregation and redlining, “The Color of Law.” There’s a great video of him in conversation with journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates, who also has written extensively on the topic.

How you can help

Our investigation found a troubling pattern of denial of mortgage loans to people of color in 61 metros nationwide. The Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 was designed to correct the damage of redlining. During Barack Obama’s presidency, federal regulators gave 99 percent of banks passing marks on their Community Reinvestment Act assessments, even though racial disparities in lending remain as pronounced as ever.

Many people asked how they can help.

  • If you, or someone you know, feels discriminated against, you can submit a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Attorneys general in four states and the District of Columbia are looking into the issue based on our investigation. Most of them, including California, New York, Pennsylvania have online complaint systems as well.
  • If you’re shopping for a home loan yourself, you can use our interactive map to find banks that make a greater proportion of their loans to people of color or deny them at a lower rate.
  • You can use the same tool to research the banks in your community and ask lenders and lawmakers about what you’ve found.
  • Every bank is required to keep its “Community Reinvestment Act public assessment file” on hand in its branches for people to request. This will offer additional information about the bank’s practices, including the neighborhoods and cities they are targeting for loans and those they are leaving out, and any consumer complaints they’ve received.

There ought to be a law

Many people asked “How is this legal?”

Discrimination in housing is illegal. It has been for 50 years, ever since President Lyndon Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act in 1968. There also are other laws that protect borrowers, such as the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974 and the aforementioned Community Reinvestment Act of 1977.

The problem is that these laws are almost never enforced. When he was in office, President Obama’s Justice Department rarely sued banks for redlining, and under President Donald Trump, not a single lender has been sued for failing to lend to people of color.

What’s more, the Trump administration has already weakened the rules that govern enforcement of this law and is poised to announce plans to further relax regulations later this spring.

Reporters Aaron Glantz and Emmanuel Martinez tackle more of your questions:

YouTube video

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Byard Duncan was a reporter and producer for  engagement and collaborations for Reveal. He managed Reveal’s Reporting Networks, which provide more than 1,000 local journalists across the U.S. with resources and training to continue Reveal investigations in their communities. He also helped lead audience engagement initiatives around Reveal’s stories and assists local reporters in elevating their work to a national platform. In addition to Reveal, Duncan’s work has appeared in GQ, Esquire, The California Sunday Magazine and Columbia Journalism Review, among other outlets. He was part of Reveal’s Behind the Smiles project team, which was named a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2019. He is the recipient of two Edward R. Murrow Awards, a National Headliner Award, an Al Neuharth Innovation in Investigative Journalism Award, and two first-place awards for feature storytelling from the Society of Professional Journalists and Best of the West. Duncan is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Aaron Glantz was a senior reporter at Reveal. He is the author of "Homewreckers: How a Gang of Wall Street Kingpins, Hedge Fund Magnates, Crooked Banks, and Vulture Capitalists Suckered Millions Out of Their Homes and Demolished the American Dream." Glantz produces journalism with impact. His work has sparked more than a dozen congressional hearings, numerous laws and criminal probes by the Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI, Pentagon and Federal Trade Commission. A two-time Peabody Award winner, finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, multiple Emmy Award nominee and former John S. Knight journalism fellow at Stanford University, Glantz has had his work has appear in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, NBC Nightly News, Good Morning America and PBS NewsHour. His previous books include "The War Comes Home" and "How America Lost Iraq."

Emmanuel Martinez is a data reporter for The Markup. For the past six years, he’s worked in the same position for the investigative news outlet and public radio show Reveal in the San Francisco Bay Area, using data, statistics, and programming to tell stories. His most recent work examined access to homeownership and mortgage discrimination, where he analyzed 31 million housing records to prove that people of color were being routinely denied mortgages in 61 major U.S. metro areas. Emmanuel has also worked on a tool to help match unidentified bodies with missing persons’ reports, reported on why wildfires in the West are growing larger and sparking closer to homes, and dug into water shortages in California’s Central Valley, which produces a quarter of the nation’s food.