Discussion Paper

How Prevalent Were Racially Restrictive Covenants in 20th Century Philadelphia? A New Spatial Data Set Provides Answers


Abstract: One of the tools used by early 20th century developers, builders, and white homeowners to prevent African Americans from accessing parts of the residential real estate market was the racially restrictive covenant. In this paper, we present a newly constructed spatial data set of properties in the city of Philadelphia with deeds that contained a racially restrictive covenant at any time from 1920 to 1932. To date, we have reviewed hundreds of thousands of property deeds and identified nearly 4,000 instances in which a racial covenant had been included in the deed. The covenanted properties formed an invisible barrier to less densely populated areas sought after by white residents and around predominantly white neighborhoods throughout the city. We present the data in a series of geospatial maps and discuss plans for future enhancements to the data set.

Keywords: racially restrictive covenants; exclusionary zoning; segregation; race; property; Philadelphia;

JEL Classification: J15; K11; K25; R12;

https://doi.org/10.21799/frbp.dp.2019.05

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Bibliographic Information

Provider: Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia

Part of Series: Consumer Finance Institute discussion papers

Publication Date: 2019-11-18

Number: 19-5