HOLC Loans in Portland’s 1940 Census: Investigating the Effects of the Great Depression on My Family

My family tree goes back many years in Portland and the neighboring Oak Grove on both my mother and father’s sides. For the purposes of this project I focused on my maternal grandfather’s family and the way the Great Depression affected their financial situation, speculating on how it may have related to HOLC Loans.

Living in Sellwood neighborhood, outlined as area C-19 on the Mapping Inequality: Redlining in New Deal America, my great-grandparents were in a “middle yellow” neighborhood. Sellwood was an area characterized by its “age and obsolescence,” but also had a high percentage of home ownership and “remote level of infiltration,” with 10 percent foreign-born families.

Image on the left from the Redlining website, on the right is a current map of Portland.

In the 1940 Census I was able to find more information about my great-grandparents and grandfather. At the time Clyde Newstrum was 41 years old, his wife Valentine was 38, and my grandfather Richard was nine. At the time he was in third grade, attending the same elementary school I would go to many years later. My great-grandfather Clyde worked for a collection agency, and my great-grandmother Valentine made about $5.00 a week working at a local bakery decorating cakes. Although Valentine made $300.00 in 1939, she was not listed as having a profession or career on the census, which I can only imagine is because of the stigma against women working outside of the home at the time. Coming out of the depression of the decade prior, in the 1940 census Clyde was listed as making no income, likely because as a collector during the the past decade there was probably not a lot of money to be collected. Their home, built in 1926 according to Zillow, was owned and cost $3,500.00.

Screenshot from the 1940 census, found at this website.

One thing that also surprised me about the census information, was Valentine not identifying as an immigrant. Valentine was born as one of 18 children in Quebec, Canada to parents who immigrated to Canada from France. In later years, during the Korean War, my grandfather Richard served stateside as a Lieutenant, advanced through the ranks because of his Masters in Fine Arts. After being approached for a special project, he was later rejected due to the immigration status of his mother. It’s possible that Valentine did not know she wasn’t born in Oregon, and later in life she did achieve citizenship with the help of my mother. It could also be possible that she chose not to identify as an immigrant due to the unfavorable societal view of immigrants.

My grandfather on his wedding day 1954, standing in front of his parent’s home.

The HOLC loans were intended to assist people purchase homes after the Great Depression of the 1930s. This system of state-sponsored loans, however, led to racial discrimination in the form of redlining, or classifying different neighborhoods into favorable or unfavorable based on the amount of immigrants and people of color in the area. HOLC loans were often denied to people of color.

I’m not sure if my great-grandparents were in a position to need to take a loan on their home, but I think that if they were, they would likely have been able to secure one. They had a demonstrated need according to the 1940 census, and although my great-grandmother’s status as an immigrant should have counted against them, white immigrants from Northwestern European countries were seen as more desirable candidates, mostly because of racist stereotypes.

Investigating the Rise in Cost of Oakland Homes

Featured Image taken from Griffin Woolridge at Pexels


My mom was born in Oakland in the early 1960’s. Her first home was out near Lake Merritt before her parents decided to move up closer to the Mormon Temple when she was 8. My mom’s parents bought a house on Burdeck Drive, where she would live until she was 12 years old. Their house was beautiful, and was surrounded by massive homes in a very high income area, even during her childhood. When people think of Oakland, their first instinct might be to think about the crime rate, the reality is that Oakland is a beautiful city on the bay. It just so happens to also have a relatively high crime rate. With that said, Oakland, similar to other cities in the Bay Area, has gone through its own share of gentrification, and houses all over the city have skyrocketed in price, even in areas that have historically been known for their high crime rates. Even houses in generally unfavorable areas are worth upwards of $750,000, or even more in some cases. 

Unfortunately, the 1940 US census data for Oakland is unfinished at best, and inaccurate at worst. There are streets named incorrectly, houses missing from lists that were verifiably existent during that time, and many other issues. With that said, my mom’s house unfortunately cannot be found on Burdeck Drive (named Burbeck Drive) on the Census. However, there is a house just down the street which can give us an idea of how much Oakland prices have skyrocketed in different areas. 

By looking at a Redlining map of 1935-1940’s Oakland, we can get an idea which parts of Oakland have generally been considered favorable to live in, versus unfavorable. For the purposes of comparing two locations, I chose a house down the street from my mom’s home on Burdeck 3216 Burdeck Drive (Section A), and compared it to 1088 88th Avenue (Section D18). 

I did some digging on Zillow, as well as other realty sites in hopes of finding some additional information about different homes in Oakland. I wanted to find out why certain houses appreciated more than others, and by how much. I also wanted to compare the incomes of the two locations during the 1935-1940s era, just to give an idea of what types of people would have been living in each of these locations. 

Comparing the Houses: 

To start with a modern day price, 3216 Burdeck Drive has a Zillow Zestimate of $1,701,100. The house is 3 Bed, 2 Bath and 2,538 Sq. Feet. It is also located in the Oakland Hills, where historically speaking, family incomes have been considerably higher. According to the map, while there is no data on section A, Section A8 had an estimated family income of $6,000-10,000 per year in 1940 which would be worth $111,632- 186,053 in 2021. 

Photo taken from Redfin

Comparing this to 1088 88th Avenue, the house is 3 Bed, 1 Bath and 1,464 Sq. Feet. The house has a Zillow Zestimate of $484,900. The house is considered to be in a Redlined area, which in the case of D18, was known for lower family incomes and higher ethnic minority populations, at least during this time. According to the map, the family incomes in this area averaged $1,200-3200 per year. This would be roughly equivalent to $22,326 – 59,537 in 2021. 

Photo taken from Zillow

By using Realtor.com, you can overlay maps of cities to compare crime, noise, and flood risk. For crime, 1088 88th Avenue is considered to be in an incredibly high crime ridden area, according to these maps. For noise, it is considered to be in a medium noise area. Finally, for flooding, it is at effectively no risk. To compare this to 3216 Burdeck Drive, where the house sits in a low crime zone. In terms of noise, the house is in a medium-low area, and there is also virtually no risk of flooding. 

Comparing Incomes: 

There is no question about it, the price of 1088 88th Avenue is being affected by factors such as crime and noise. However, this makes you wonder how much. In order to figure this out, I looked back at the 1940 US Census Data to find the specific income of the families who lived in these houses during this time. That way, I can estimate the cost of these houses based on what someone with their income would likely be able to afford. 

The income of the family living in 1088 88th Avenue was $900 which is roughly equivalent to $16,745 when accounting for inflation. In 2021, someone with that income could not afford any houses in Oakland. However, the census does state that the individual was a carpenter. By looking up the average wage for a carpenter in 2021, we can better estimate what type of house someone would be able to afford with that occupation. The average carpenter salary is $57,958. With this inference, we can see that carpenters seem to make more money in 2021 than they would have in 1940. With that said, someone with an income of $57,958 in 2021 would be able to afford a house that is worth $241,364.56 according to the HSH “How Much House Can You Afford” calculator. This would suggest that this house has roughly doubled in value since 1940 according to these calculations. The problem with that is the dollar is worth roughly 1/18th what it was worth in 1940, meaning that this house has severely dropped in value since 1940 when accounting for inflation. 

When comparing this to the family of 3216 Burdeck Drive, it is a bit more complicated. The owners of the house were a retired Dressmaker and retired Musician. However, their house was estimated to be worth $1,500 according to the 1940 Census Data. This would be worth $27,908 in 2021, meaning that this house effectively multiplied its value by 60.95 times from 1940 to 2021. This is assuming that this is referring to the total value of the home if it were owned,  and not the monthly rental value, as $1,500 per month for a rental home back then would have been impossible for most families to afford. While neither of these figures makes complete sense, it seems much more plausible that a house’s value would multiply by 60 times than for someone to be forced to pay the equivalent of nearly $28,000 for rent. This was the figure that was provided, so it is the figure that will be used. It would be difficult to argue any other way, as dressmaking and being a musician both count as private practices, and their incomes are not listed, so it is nearly impossible to estimate the value of the home without the $1500 figure. It is, however, entirely possible that the census is incorrect about the price. Maybe they meant $15,000 which would put the price of the home closer to $279,079 in 2021. This would put the houses’ increase in value at about 6.1 times its original value which is still a pretty significant increase in value. 

To summarize, select parts of Oakland have gone through immense gentrification, with an influx of wealth making its way into the Bay Area. Ultimately, while the prices of houses have gone up throughout the city, only certain areas have seen the prices of houses match or even exceed the rate at which inflation is occurring. In the case of 3216 Burdeck Drive, the growth was seemingly astronomical, although almost unbelievably so. For 1088 88th Avenue, the growth was much more modest. This was likely due to the factors such as crime and noise, as well as just how preferable each given area was to live when considering a Redline map.  

Investigating My Grandparent’s Mortgage Loan Status in 1958

Featured Image Source


My father immigrated to the United States in 1968 from Lima, Peru. He was 5 years old at the time; the fifth of sixth children in his immediate family. Both of my father’s parents families descended from Germany and had settled in Peru. 

My great grandparents with three of my father’s older siblings in Lima, Peru

My father’s family contributed to issues of inequality in Peru and for that reason left the country in 1968 due to numerous political disputes. My grandmother came from a family that owned a large sugar plantation about 350 miles north of Lima. A great deal of this land was seized from my grandmother’s family in the 1968 Peruvian coup d’etat. One of my father’s older sisters was also battling polio, and medical care in the United States succeeded that of the medical care in Peru. My father’s parents agreed it was a good time to leave Peru, and they looked to the United States for a fresh start. This ironically happens to be the exact year that the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) banned racial discrimination in its housing program in the United States.

Prior to 1968, the United States’ federal government utilized the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) between the years of 1935 and 1940 to evaluate residential neighborhoods across the nation. These evaluations were funded to determine various urban neighborhood’s “mortgage security”. These residential evaluations deemed the various risks and advantages associated with the specified neighborhoods. They were created to help banks and other mortgage lenders determine what demographic was allowed to exist in various neighborhoods. They were created to systemically marginalize the urban residents of the United States. 

What if my father’s family had decided to leave Peru ten years prior, in the year 1958? Would they have been able to establish residence in the neighborhood I’m currently living in? 

While exploring the HOLC archived map of Portland, I noticed descriptions of the “infiltration” were viewed as “subversive,” “lower grade,” or “undesirable”. This is direct evidence that the HOLC was identifying all foreign immigration as an unwanted characteristic of a residential locality. 

While my father’s grandparents in Peru were wealthy, my father’s parents did not inherit the financial benefits associated with their parent’s “old money”. I am told that my grandfather was in search of work the year they arrived in America. This is in indication that my father’s family would have requested a loan in order to establish residence.

My neighborhood: St. Johns, Portland OR (Section C2)

I live at the crossroads of N Ivanhoe St and N New York Ave. This section (polygon) of the St. Johns neighborhood is labeled “C2” on Portland’s HOLC map. The HOLC included numerous characteristics on their evaluation of Portland’s C2 polygon. The characteristics listed include a geographic description, information on the infrastructure and the demographics of the neighborhood’s inhabitants. Under section 2c, the neighborhood’s “foreign-born families” percentage is listed as “none subversive”. This leads me to believe that immigrants were not particularly welcome in this neighborhood. 

Screen Capture of Portland’s C2 Polygon on the HOLC Archive

The 1940 census shows that a vast majority of the people living in this neighborhood were born in the United States. I found two families that showed record of having at the status of immigrants. One family living at 9415 N Ivanhoe St included a forty-two year old man born in Turkey, and another family living at 9207 N Ivanhoe St included a father and a son who were born in Russia. The screen capture below shows the census documentation of the family members born in Russia. 

1940 Census depicting the residents at 9207 N Ivanhoe St

The Bank’s Decision

It’s difficult to determine whether or not my father’s family would have been approved to live in St Johns in 1958. Due to the fact that the 1940 census indicates there were other white immigrants living in the C2 polygon during this time, I presume my father’s family would have likely been approved for a mortgage loan. I am told that both of my grandparents spoke very broken English, and had a difficult time assimilating to American culture. 

My Father’s Family at Christmas Dinner in California Sometime in the Early 1970s (My father on the right with the red bowtie)

My grandparent’s family was culturally tied to Peru, however they were white. This would obviously benefit them while applying for a mortgage loan in 1958. What if their ethnicity resembled less of that from their German ancestry and more from their Peruvian ancestry? How would that have effected their mortgage security status?