Pepco’s ‘Undesign the Redline’ Exhibit Focuses on Racial Discrimination in D.C. Housing

by: Shantella Y. Sherman Special to the AFRO ssherman@afro.com
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Redlining, a discriminatory pattern of disinvestment and obstructive lending practices that impede home ownership among Blacks and other people of color, has played out against racial, political and socioeconomic constructs in Washington D.C. for generations. It is now being vividly documented in a new exhibit, “Undesign the Redline,” at Pepco Edison Place Gallery and facilitated by Enterprise Community Partners, a finance and development nonprofit that promotes affordable housing.

The “Undesign the Redline” exhibit at the Pepco Edison Place Gallery. The exhibit will be on display until Sept. 28. (Photo by Shantella Sherman)

“On a personal level, a few touchpoints come to mind when touring this exhibit.  I heard in my own home from my own folks, how neighbors or friends were denied loans,” David Bowers, vice president and mid-Atlantic market leader at Enterprise Community Partners told the AFRO.  “When you witness folks of my parents’ generation who came to the area who struggled and pushed for equity and equal opportunity and they were professionals and working people, you understand they were fighting a system.”

Bowers said that despite having the city move from predominantly White to majority Black, and now shifting back to White charts more than racial shifts, but changing policies to attract new people in public and private sectors. “The exhibit makes a great link between redlining and policies like urban renewal, and the crackdown on drugs.  Undesign deconstructs, so when people talk about this and come back and engage with others, they can refute with real facts, that opportunities have not been equal,” Bowers said.

According to the organization’s website, Undesign the Redline offers a framework through which District residents can learn more about the deep, systemic and entangled crises redlining created, including structural racism and economic disenfranchisement.  As attendees tour one neighborhood after another, visitors get a rare glimpse of the nature of redlining.

“Redlining is not accidental.  People fought and planned to keep Blacks, women, and others, out.  It was intentional to and designed to legally make it so you cannot have access.  It was intentional and Enterprise wants to inform people, anger people, and move people” Bowers said.

Redlining grew out of the policies developed by the Franklin Roosevelt Administration to reduce foreclosures during the Depression.  Federal housing agencies determined whether areas were deemed unfit for investment by banks, insurance companies, and other financial services companies. The areas were physically demarcated with red shading and were based on the area’s racial composition rather than income levels.  By blotting these neighborhoods from economic security – often denying loans to homeowners and businesses – the neighborhoods quickly declined and could then be further charted for economic exclusion.

Designing the WE, a for profit design studio, offers, in addition to the interactive exhibit, several workshops and curriculum on the history of structural racism and classism, how these designs compounded each other from 1938 Redlining maps until today.

The free exhibit will be at the gallery until Sept. 28. A panel discussing the exhibit is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.– 7 p.m. Sept. 20. Panelists include April De Simone, Designing the WE; the Rev. Jim Dickerson, MANNA, an organization that serves low and moderate-income families with homeownership in Washington, D.C.; Charles Ellison, Greater Washington Urban League; Maurice Jackson, Georgetown University; Todd A. Lee, D.C. Housing Finance Agency; Shanita Burney, D.C. Public Schools; and Yanique Redwood, Consumer Health Foundation.

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