The Effects of Redlining and Food Deserts in Jacksonville 

 

Words by Kelila Ritchie

In a city where Whole Foods, Publix and Fresh Market can amicably exist within a three-mile radius from each other; just on the other side of a connecting bridge, an entire community struggles to make ends meet daily.  

 

This is the situation in District 7. One of the largest districts in Jacksonville and arguably, the most underserved community in Jacksonville, District 7 includes northwest Jacksonville (also known as the Northside) historic Eastside, Downtown and surrounding areas. It’s also the result of redlining, which leads to food deserts, among other things.

 

REDLINING

During the Great Depression, the American government created a system known as the Home Ownership Loan Corporation (HOLC). The HOLC’s purpose was to help aid Americans in home purchasing and stimulate economic recovery. Through this system, entire neighborhoods across cities were categorized and mapped based on a perceived risk in lending. This map influenced lenders in making decisions about where and who to provide mortgages to. As we have seen time and time again, a common theme in America is to punish the poor and BIPOC communities (Black, indigenous and people of color). In this instance, redlining served as a huge detriment to not only poor families but especially poor BIPOC families. These “perceived risks” were based solely on financial and racial factors. (By now, I am sure you know where this article is going so let’s get right into it.) The segmentation on “Residential Security Maps” showed neighborhoods that were labeled “low risk” or “A”/”B,” medium risk or “C” and high risk or “D” where lenders would not loan at all. 

 

These segmented maps placed predominantly Black, indigenous and POC communities in red, high-risk zones. As a result of being in red zones, these communities were blatantly denied access to mortgages, any sort of refinancing options or home improvement loans. 

 

According to LISC (Local Initiative Support Corporation) Jacksonville, this was deemed justifiable by the Federal Housing Administration which alleged that wherever African-Americans purchased homes, property values were guaranteed to fall. Structural racism has once again placed Black families at the bottom of the barrel scraping to get by on little to no resources. The National Institutes of Health (NIA) defines structural racism as the “totality of ways in which societies foster discrimination via mutually reinforcing systems, including historical events, such as slavery, Black code and Jim Crow laws, and more recent events such as state-sanctioned racist laws in the form of redlining.” Structural racism reinforces discriminatory beliefs, values and distribution of resources. 

 

As an African American woman living in 2023, I often am faced with the reality that many non- black POC and our white counterparts do not acknowledge or want to acknowledge that structural racism is constantly playing a role in the day-to-day lives of Black Americans. 

 

As a result of redlining, entire BIPOC communities were banished to “unrestricted/industrial zones,” that allowed literally any type of development. This ranged from incinerators to factories. 

 

More words to add to your vocabulary set today: environmental racism. 

 

Environmental racism is the intentional siting of pollution and waste facilities in communities primarily populated by BIPOC communities. These communities are disproportionately subjected to toxic fumes, dust, ash, soot and so many other pollutants that are detrimental to the overall health of humans. Maintaining a healthy environment is crucial to increasing the quality of life and longevity of life in communities. This is obviously stating the obvious. Race and location should not be a determinant in how someone lives. 

 

In the same breath, by placing these communities in the rut of Jacksonville (created also by Jacksonville), the property values of these areas continued to decrease. 

 

“While the Fair Housing Act of 1968 outlawed racial segregation in housing, BIPOC communities were historically deprived of the ability to generate wealth through homeownership due to the practice of redlining, while white communities prospered,” according to LISC Jacksonville. 

 

Thus, communities such as Durkeeville continued to plunge while communities like Riverside enjoyed access to resources and services that promoted and provided economic stability and certainty; in a sense, leaving entire communities behind. Consequently, significant, racialized gaps in wealth and other areas continue to exist to this very day. 

 

Today, the same communities impacted by redlining, the same communities that were deemed untrustworthy, unworthy by lenders 100 years ago, are the same communities that are being largely underserved and under-resourced today. 

 

FOOD DESERTS

Food deserts are areas in a city where residents have little to no convenient options for obtaining affordable and healthy foods — especially fresh produce. Food deserts are disproportionately found in poverty stricken areas. This is largely attributed to the lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets or any other healthy food providers in the area. 

 

If you have ever been to the heart of the Northside, or even just across the railroad tracks into Mixontown, you will see multiple corner stores or “convenience stores.” These small shops often provide a great amount of processed sugar and fatty foods that are well known factors in the obesity epidemic that America faces. There are many family homes on the Northside, communities that people are proud to be from and rep with a smile. But what do you do when your grandmother wants a home cooked meal and instead of a Publix being two miles away, Popeyes or McDonald’s takes it place?

 

Imagine a mother without transportation is making lunch for her children wanting to get them fresh fruit but instead of Whole Foods being within walking distance, it’s just a corner store full of GMO-pumped fruits that have likely been dropped repeatedly on the dirtiest floor you could imagine. Additionally, on average two buses and a nearly two-hour trip are needed to get to the nearest actual grocery store: Harvey’s Supermarket on Market Street.

 

The lack of access to healthy foods in these communities means health disparities and high rates of chronic diseases. Without access to nutritional foods, communities living in food deserts are at a higher risk for obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. The black community in Jacksonville is dying. 

 

Dr. Sunil Joshi, Jacksonville’s new chief health officer, said, “Food deserts need to be addressed as part of the larger economic development, infrastructure improvement plans in Jacksonville.”

 

“We need to do a better job of incentivizing grocers to come into the food deserts throughout Jacksonville but, in particular, in the underserved/more vulnerable communities. We will have to think uniquely about how to assist smaller/locally owned grocers to increase healthy food options,” he added. 

 

In Duval County, 66.2% of adults and 29% of middle and high school students are overweight or obese. Initiatives to combat this growing epidemic would include increasing access to nutritious and affordable foods. According to Joshi, the Northwest Jacksonville Economic Development fund has up to $3 million to help bring grocers into food deserts. Additionally, the city has asked that $2.2 million of Mayor Donna Deegan’s Task Force budget be allocated to help provide one hot meal a day to roughly 2,000 elderly people on a waiting list for fresh meal service. 

 

But honestly, we need more. We need action. We need more than one free hot meal a day. It is a start, yes. But if your grandparents had no car, no grocery store in close proximity and little food in their homes, would you want more than one meal a day for them? I thought so. 

 

People deserve to live comfortably. People deserve to have food security regardless of their financial status and where they live. It is not the fault of the community that they are underserved and without resources. It is the city leaders who vowed to protect their constituents. Why is it that churches and people living in the same community under the same conditions, are expected to give what little they already have? Why is it up to the community to fix these issues while the government sits back and gives us the run around or bread crumbs to make do with?

 

Duval County alone has one of the highest food insecurity for the entire state. The consequences do not go unnoticed as inaccessibility to enough healthy food increases chances of learning difficulties and behavioral issues, as well as depression and anxiety. 

 

Everything is so expensive these days. Inflation is quite literally affecting everyone, some worse than others. Still, fresh, healthy food should not be a luxury but a right to everyone. Good food should not be a luxury. Fresh produce, healthy snacks, even water has to stop being something people have to beg for. It should not be on the community to save themselves from poverty but the elected officials that we have put in office. 

 

We the people (if that even means much these days), demand more out of the city, out of our government. 

 

RESOURCES

If you or anyone you know are victims of food deserts, there are resources available to you. 

 

Sulzbacher is a nonprofit organization located at 611 E. Adams St. They are dedicated to street outreach, daily meals, emergency housing amongst other services. sulzbacherjax.org

 

The Clara White Mission has been around for more than 100 years and is dedicated to serving the needs of the less fortunate, located at 613 W Ashley St. clarawhitemission.org

 

LIFT Jax is a relatively new resource Downtown that works to eradicate generational poverty. They have been working tirelessly to restore the Debs Store on the Historic Eastside in order to provide easy access to healthy food. The Debs Store location will also provide financial services. liftjax.org 

About Kelila Ritchie

Kelila has dedicated her teenage years to advocating for injustices around her and in the world. Journalism is more than just a passion for her but a calling. She is dedicated to keeping her community informed and spreading awareness about social inequalities. Catch her on the beach any given weekend!