Housing History: Racially Restrictive Covenant in Kern County Tracts

Housing Advertisement
This newspaper ad is an example of racial segregation in Bakersfield housing during the 1950s. It is important to note that the advertisement still used “Colored” in 1956, eight years after Shelley v. Kaemer outlawed the use of racially restrictive covenants. The Press Volume III, No.14, 16 February 1956, 1956-02-16bp. Kern County Newspaper Collection, 2020-002. p11. California State University, Bakersfield, Walter W. Stiern Library-Historical Research Center. http://aspace.lib.csub.edu:8081/repositories/3/archival_objects/5157

All covenants, or legal agreements on the conditions of buying, owning, building, or selling homes were racially exclusive. These “agreements” were conditions of collective owning in neighborhoods. The conditions and restrictions created limited geographic access to renters and homebuyers. The limitations created uniform behaviors, and they were made to encourage racial and economic homogeneity by having visual similarities, usage, square footage, yard setback, and financial value. Modern homes can also have these constraints, but in the past, covenants banned certain races. Covenants also had additional limitations, as the tract’s restrictive agreements had multiple sections and specific bans contained within them. Ideas of desirability influenced the first nine sections of the legal agreement. Besides race, the rest were all economic limitations. For example, restrictions included limits on home use, where no trade work or noxious buildings were allowed on the property lot. Additionally, only single-family homes were allowed with neighborhood committee approval and value of property and square foot size. These were the requirements to build a home. The categories allowed future owners and sellers to advertise to the race and the socioeconomic class they approved. These restrictions had a profound impact on neighborhood demographics by limiting purchases to white middle-class families.

White only neighborhood communities proliferated because new homes were legally segregated. Racially restrictive covenants, legal agreements between sellers and buyers, forbade the selling of new homes to minorities. Legal race controls, in part, helped create minority-dense neighborhoods. These legal agreements limited opportunities for minority residents to leave older neighborhoods and limited the geographic availability of older and dilapidated homes. The opening of older neighborhoods resulted in more racially homogeneous tracts in this geographic space. Minority residents were often only given the option to buy in already minority-populated neighborhoods, which for the most part, did not offer the same modern sanitary facilities or modern investments. “White Flight” created housing availability and opened homes for sale. These markets, however, allowed for predatory lending and selling of dilapidated homes.

The Federal Housing Administration was established in 1934 as a New Deal Program. By 1938, the FHA Underwriting Manual recommended the use of racially restrictive covenants to developers and real estate agents to protect racial homogeneity in the name of financial investment. Below is a page from the Underwriting Manual, published in 1938.

 

 

 

FHA underwriting manual 1938
FHA, Underwriting Manual: Underwriting and Valuation Procedure Under Title II of the National Housing Act, 1938, p978-980 https://www.huduser.gov/portal/sites/default/files/pdf/Federal-Housing-Administration-Underwriting-Manual.pdf

 

 

 

Oleander tract covenant
Oleander Terrace Extension, Tract 1113, Section F, “No person of any race other than white or caucasian [sic] race shall use or occupy any building or any lot, except that this covenant shall not prevent occupancy by domestic servants of different race domiciled with an owner or tenant.” page 1-3
In 1948, Shelley v. Kraemer, a U.S. Supreme Court case, held that racially restrictive covenants in real property deeds which prohibited the sale of property to non-Caucasians unconstitutionally violated the equal protection provision of the Fourteenth Amendment. While Shelley v. Kraemer overturned the “enforcement” of racially restrictive covenants, contracts still included race restrictions until 1950 when the FHA announced that it would not finance homes that had racially exclusive agreements. This did not end housing segregation and it was not until 1968 when the Fair Housing Act was passed, the last Civil Rights Act of the 1960s. Housing inequalities continue to this day.

Between 1938 to 1950 there was an estimated 171 housing tracts built in Bakersfield with racially restrictive covenants. While this research provides a glimpse to the vast racial segregation in Bakersfield, this research does not include individual housing racial restrictions that predate the FHA recommendation, nor does this research include other forms of racial segregation, or demographic research.

The Condition of Segregated Housing

NAACP Article
“In all of my experience as an NAACP worker throughout the deep South I have never seen as dreadful, unsanitary, and depressing as those under which thousand of Negro migrant workers have to live on the outskirts of Bakersfield… There are no sanitary facilities whatsoever, the people having to use pit toilets, whose stench is readily recognizable miles away… Many Negro citizens of Bakersfield proper, against overwhelming odds, have been able to buy land and to build lovely comfortable homes and dwellings. Recently a Negro fireman succeeded in doing this. The day after he moved into his home a cross was burned on his front lawn! Yes, there are Negro firemen in the community, segregated in an all-Negro company. Williams, Franklin. ” The Bakersfield Community,” The Crisis Magazine, April 1950, 231-233 https://books.google.com/books?id=81cEAAAAMBAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false

Unequal Suburban Development

Bakersfield A Comfortable Place to Live
“America’s Newest City,” Bakersfield Kern County, Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce 1959

List of all tracts organized by date of establishment, including developer names, covenant notarized date, and tract number or name.

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Tract Maps- Greenes, 751, Mayflower, Cloverdale, La Naranja, Lowell, Monte Vista, Community Acres, Palm, Lake of the Woods, Oildale, 1043, 1056, 1054, 1066, 1061, 1072, 1075, 1070, 1069, 1079, 1071, 1078, Park Sub, 1091, 1088, 1087, 1095, 1086, 1096, 1090, 1093, 1103, 1094, 1119, 1106, 1108, 1113, 1123, 1125, 1138, 1099, 1034, 1150, 1159, 1149, 1192, 1139, 1098, 1160, 1102, 1152, 1175, 1163, 1208, 1207, 1220, 1236, 1173, 1243, 1267, 1238, 1256, 1255, 1262, 1272, 1279, 1283, 1281, 1291, 1206, 1188, 1302, 1315, 1288, 1304, 1325, 1284, 1249, 1327, 1314, 1312, 1311, 1282, 1332, 1290, 1334, 1316, 1337, 1329, 1259, 1353, 1300, 1354, 1358, 1330, 1355, 1346, 1145, 1349, 1367, 1345, 1362, 1333, 1366, 1374, 1379, 1357, 1380, 1359, 1370, 1377, 1385, 1375, 1389, 1390, 1369, 1269, 1395, 1394, 1396, 1392, 1398, 1397, 1372, 1401, 1405, 1386, 1407, 1373, 1413, 1420, 1418, 1419, 1423, 1430, 1432, 1404, 1422, 1387, 1438, 1436, 1434, 1360, 1417, 1441, 1455, 1460, 1456, 1445, 1476, 1473, 1478, 1472, 1414, 1475, 1493, 1492, 1505, 1495, 1444, 1498, 1503, 1502, 1461, 1508, 1504, 1512, 1521, 1532, 1390