Racial Housing Covenants: The Case of a Southern U.S. City

33 Pages Posted: 17 Nov 2023 Last revised: 22 Apr 2024

See all articles by Jermaine Toney

Jermaine Toney

Rutgers University ; Cornell University

James Kelly

Rutgers University, New Jersey

Alex Hoffman

City of El Paso

Date Written: April 22, 2024

Abstract

Racially-restrictive housing covenants are a long under-recognized instrument of housing discrimination and segregation. Yet, much of the prior literature on racially-restrictive housing covenants focuses on northern U.S. cities, while limited attention has been given to southern cities. We examine 59 property deeds containing racially- or economically- restrictive clauses, which collectively cover over two-fifths (45.94%) of the total platted land area in El Paso, Texas, from 1900 to 1950. Our findings suggest that historical housing covenants serve as instruments of race and class stratification, sorting El Paso’s population by identity. In the restricted clauses of housing covenants, whites and Mexicans are not explicitly identified, which represents a property relation that conceals their identities and privileges them as members of the in-group. In contrast, black and Asian minority residents are targeted as restricted groups in the covenants, which reveals their identities and reduces them to the out-group. Additionally, covenants contain a stipulated minimum property value or minimum square footage requirement. These economic restrictions might function to marginalize Mexicans, even if they were not explicitly mentioned in the clauses with racial restrictions. Similar to their counterparts in northern cities, historical housing covenants in El Paso are tools for establishing and preserving property rights in whiteness.

Keywords: Housing Discrimination, Racial Covenants, Segregation, Stratification Economics

JEL Classification: N32, N92, R12, R52, Z13

Suggested Citation

Toney, Jermaine and Kelly, James and Hoffman, Alex, Racial Housing Covenants: The Case of a Southern U.S. City (April 22, 2024). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4607196 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4607196

Jermaine Toney (Contact Author)

Rutgers University ( email )

33 Livingston Avenue
New Brunswick, NJ 08901-1982

Cornell University

Warren Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853
United States

James Kelly

Rutgers University, New Jersey ( email )

NJ
United States

Alex Hoffman

City of El Paso ( email )

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