June 25, 2021

Rep. Watson Coleman Introduces the SHADE Act to Combat the Environmental Impacts of Redlining

Today, Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12) introduced the Saving Hazardous and Declining Environments Act (SHADE Act). This legislation would create a grant program under the Department of Housing and Urban Development, to plant trees in formerly redlined districts graded “hazardous” and “definitely declining” by the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) and other overburdened communities.  

Redlining, a discriminatory housing policy developed by the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC), was designed to deny resources to predominately minority neighborhoods and halt investments in neighborhoods deemed “hazardous.” Through this process the HOLC identified communities which were eligible for investments and those which were not. Ultimately, this led to racial profiling and the refusal of insurance or home loans, on the basis of race. While the Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibited redlining, the deleterious effects of redlining are apparent today. A 2020 study examined 108 urban areas in the United States and found that almost all formerly redlined urban areas experienced higher land surface temperatures than non-redlined areas, due to reduced tree cover and increased asphalt or concrete surfaces. Redlined areas are on average 4.68°F warmer than in non-redlined areas, with discrepancies as high as 12.6 °F having been measured between some neighborhoods.  

Trees have a significant impact on decreasing land surface temperatures, as they provide direct shade, decrease surrounding air temperatures through evapotranspiration, and reduce the amount of solar radiation hitting heat-absorbing surfaces like buildings and roads which release heat back into neighborhoods. According to the  Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), shaded areas are cooler by 20-45°F than non-shaded areas and evapotranspiration can reduce temperatures by 2-9°F. Studies estimate that living in high ambient temperatures is the cause of 12,000 avoidable premature deaths per year in the U.S. In addition, research indicates that living in areas of excessive heat, with limited green space, can negatively impact a person’s mental health.  

“For almost 100 years, minority communities in the United States have been the target of redlining,” said Congresswoman Watson Coleman. “Significant evidence has shown the negative environmental effects of redlining and demonstrates the crucial need for the reduction of temperatures in urban areas. This bill would help combat the intentionally racist and highly problematic housing policies which impact communities to this day.” 

“Because the federal government once considered some neighborhoods ‘hazardous’ for mortgage lenders, conditions in those neighborhoods are now hazardous to the health of their predominantly Black and brown residents,” said Stephen Burrington, Executive Director of Groundwork USA. “The SHADE Act is a vital first step toward using the imprint of redlining to shape the nation’s climate justice agenda.”

“As climate change continues to raise temperatures across our country, the SHADE Act can provide needed relief—especially in overburdened communities most impacted by unhealthy and excessive heat, dangerous air pollution and rising energy bills,” said John Bowman, Managing Director for Government Affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“Today, communities of color across the country are more likely to suffer from dangerously high temperatures caused by the urban heat island effect than neighboring White communities,” said Marty Hayden, Vice President of Policy and Legislation at Earthjustice. “This disparity is one of the many legacies of the racist redlining practice that began nearly a century ago, and is being further exacerbated by climate change. We commend Congresswoman Watson Coleman for sponsoring The SHADE Act to bring critical relief to these communities by creating a tree-planting program to both lower the temperature and save lives.” 

"Trees are critical infrastructure that save lives, combat climate change, and provide myriad economic benefits," said Joel Pannell, vice president of urban forest policy at American Forests.  "We continue to grapple with the negative impacts of the decades long practice of redlining, including gross inequities when it comes to tree canopy cover.  Healthy trees prevent approximately 1,200 heat-related deaths and countless heat-related illnesses annually in cities nationwide.  As we prepare for another summer of extreme heat and increasing temperatures, achieving Tree Equity is a moral imperative to provide our most vulnerable neighborhoods with the natural protection and benefits trees have to offer.  We applaud Rep. Watson Coleman for introducing this timely legislation and look forward to bipartisan efforts to advance the SHADE Act and create Tree Equity in communities across the country."  

The SHADE Act will:  

  • Create a grant program under the Department of Housing and Urban Development to plant trees in formerly redlined areas graded “hazardous” and “definitely declining” by the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation 
  • Make funds available to overburdened areas that either 35% or more households qualify as low income, 40% or more of residents identify as minority or as members of a tribal community, or 40% or more of households are limited English proficiency  
  • Appropriate $50,000,000 per fiscal year from 2022 through 2032 for the design, planting, monitoring, and maintenance of the trees 


Cosponsors include: Nanette Diaz Barragán (CA-44), Earl Blumenauer (OR-3), Jamaal Bowman (NY-16), Cori Bush (MO-01), André Carson (IN-07), Judy Chu (CA-27), Yvette Clarke (NY-09), Emanuel Cleaver II (MO-5), Steve Cohen (TN-09), Dwight Evans (PA-3), Jahana Hayes (CT-05), Jared Huffman (CA-02), Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Henry C. “Hank” Johnson Jr. (GA-04), Mondaire Jones (NY-17), Marcy Kaptur (OH-9), John Larson (CT-01), Barbara Lee (CA-13), Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), Doris Matsui (CA-06), Grace Meng (NY-06), Marie Newman (IL-03), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-At Large), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), Mark Pocan (WI-02), Mike Quigley (IL-05), Jamie Raskin (MD-08), Albio Sires (NJ-08), Darren Soto (FL-09), Marilyn Strickland (WA-10), Tom Suozzi (NY-03), Rashida Tlaib (MI-13), Nydia Velázquez (NY-7), Nikema Williams (GA-05), Frederica S. Wilson (FL-24), John Yarmuth (KY-03). 

Endorsing groups: American Forests, Earthjustice, Groundwork USA, Natural Resources Defense Council