Dividing Durham: HOLC's Survey of the Bull City

Welcome to Dividing Durham: HOLC’s Survey of the Bull City


History of HOLC:


Created in 1933 by the federal government, the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) made low-interest mortgages to homeowners threatened by the dramatic increase in foreclosures resulting from the Depression.[1] During its brief three year existence, the HOLC “supplied more than $3 billion for over a million mortgages, or loans for one-tenth of all owner-occupied, nonfarm residences in the United States” which equated to about 40% of Americans who sought HOLC assistance.[2] In 1935, HOLC began its City Survey Program which appraised real estate in urban areas; HOLC staff in partnership with local real estate brokers “produced detailed reports for each city along with a series of now infamous maps that assigned residential areas a grade from one to four” with corresponding letters and colors: A (Green), B (Blue), C (Yellow), D (Red) (Hillier 2003, 395).[3]


  1. First Grade (A): Green areas are “hot spots”; they are not yet fully built up. In nearly all instances they are the new well planned section 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 times” or “bad”, hence on the up grade.


  1. Second Grade (B): Blue areas, as a rule, are completely developed. They are like a 1935 automobile - still good, but not what the people are buying today when [they] 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.


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


  1. Fourth Grade (D): Red areas represent those neighborhoods in which the things that are taking place in C neighborhoods, have already happened. They are characterized by detrimental influences in a pronounced degree, undesirable population or an 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 that the so-called slum districts. Some mortgage lenders may refuse to make loans in these neighborhoods and others will lend only on a conservative basis.[4]


Grade assignment resulted from a variable array of factors, including: ethnicity of inhabitants, occupation, income, state of repair, age, and type of structures, and perhaps the most controversialClarifying Remarks section where surveyed real estate brokers offered a brief explanation for why a grade was assigned. The purpose of the map was to graphically represent the perceived trend of desirability in neighborhoods and overall the HOLC rating system “undervalued neighborhoods that were dense, mixed, or aging” (Jackson 1980, 423).[5]


Project and How to Navigate Site:


This project examines the HOLC survey of Durham in 1937 and applies it to the Main Street Carolina software, which overlays a georeferenced version of the Durham City Survey Map over Google Maps. This program allows for specific points (designated by markers) to relay additional documentation about the location, contextualizing the map with relevant historical information. Markers are broken down into six categories: Area Descriptions, Banks & Trust Companies, Building & Loan Associations, Insurance Companies, Real Estate Brokers, and Prominent Structures. Information drawn from the individual Area Descriptions supply the information for this marker group; additionally, users will see a current street view of the area now and a link to the entire area description document. Markers categorized as Banks & Trust Companies, Building & Loan Associations, Insurance Companies, and Real Estate Brokers include the survey questionnaires given to institutions and individuals. The Prominent Structures category marks mills, schools, hospitals, factories, and other structures to frame what influences might upgrade or downgrade a neighborhood. Additional information including correspondence related to the survey, the full report and summary report, and a bibliography of sources concerning HOLC, the Federal Housing Administration, and Redlining can be found under the Documents tab.


In total, HOLC surveyed 239 American cities. This project is the test site for using the Main Street Carolina software as a platform for this information. T-RACES (developed by Richard Marciano of UNC-Chapel Hill and SALT) is a similar project to Dividing Durham, but utilizes a different software platform and examines the HOLC surveys of California cities. This project is connected to a larger project by SALT to allow access to HOLC documentation for all five North Carolina cities surveyed (Asheville, Charlotte, Durham, Greensboro, and Winston-Salem). The hope for this project and related projects is that increased access to this important information will instigate multidisciplinary research from fields like history, urban planning, sociology, economics, American studies, and any other fields that would find value in this information.


For more sources regarding HOLC and redlining, see Suggested Resources under the Documents tab.

[1]Hillier, Amy E.. "Redlining and the Home Owners' Loan Corporation."Journal of Urban History 29, no. (2003): 394-420.

[2]Jackson, Kenneth T.. "Race, Ethnicity, and Real Estate Appraisal: The Home Owners Loan Corporation and the Federal Housing Administration." Journal of Urban History 6, no. 4 (1980): 421.

[3]Hillier, Amy E.. "Redlining and the Home Owners' Loan Corporation."Journal of Urban History 29, no. (2003): 395.

[4]Grade descriptions taken from Section I of: Home Owners Loan Corporation. Summary of Survey of Durham, North Carolina, 1937. Division of Research and Statistics, n.d. The full version of this document can be found under the Documents tab.

[5]Jackson, Kenneth T.. "Race, Ethnicity, and Real Estate Appraisal: The Home Owners Loan Corporation and the Federal Housing Administration." Journal of Urban History 6, no. 4 (1980): 423.

Project Developed by: Kelly Smith and John Weis

with direction from: Richard Marciano

as part of American Studies 890: Virtual Cities