Housing Covenants

Redlining and Housing Covenants

Although legal segregation ended with the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision in 1954, housing segregation persists today due to the long lasting effects of redlining and economic and social exclusion. For a more thorough history of redlining in the United States, please read “The Case for Reparations” by Ta-Nehisi Coates. South Pasadena, along with much of the greater Los Angeles area, remains one of the most segregated metropolitan areas in the US even as it boasts great diversity. 

As discussed in the Sundown Towns section of The Racist History of South Pasadena, city government officials bragged about the complete whiteness of the city’s populous, and South Pasadena gained a reputation for its official city-wide racial covenants as early as 1947. As demonstrated by the McClain case covered in The Plunge section, no Black people lived in South Pasadena as late as 1955. People of color, particularly Black people and people of Mexican descent, faced intentional discrimination and exclusion in the form of South Pasadena’s housing covenants.

The context for our city’s hegemonic whiteness is well framed by the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) map of Los Angeles published in 1939 (pictured above).1 This map classified each area in the greater Los Angeles region from groups A to D. A areas, indicated by the color green, were considered desirable places for individuals to move and, therefore, for developers to invest in. Areas designated by the D classification, indicated by the color red (the origin of the term redlining), were considered declining and were not given the same access to home loans as areas designated with the A, B, or C classifications. 

The HOLC and Federal Housing Administration (FHA) rating system prioritized communities that were homogeneously white and punished areas that were racially and ethnically diverse. In Los Angeles, areas like Watts and Boyle Heights were given D ratings because they were racially and culturally diverse. These pushed investors away from these areas and siphoned wealth directly to neighborhoods that were mostly white and contained pre-existing wealth. This practice exacerbated the intergenerational wealth gap between white Americans and Americans of color, particularly Black Americans. It also encouraged areas that were already white and wealthy to stay that way, furthering policies that turned South Pasadena into a sundown town. 

On the 1939 map, South Pasadena is mostly classified in group B, meaning that it was a desirable community to live in, but not as desirable as those in the A classification. Our city government took action to ensure that the city’s classification would improve, which means whitening our city population and homogenizing our image to the surrounding communities. 

These racially restrictive practices often took shape in covenants on homes which permitted their sale to white families only. These covenants remained unchallenged until 1946 when formally incarcerated (during WWII) Japanese American Frank Chuman won a landmark case against these racially restrictive covenants on public land.2 Of course, many of these covenants remained on privately owned property. As mentioned in the Sundown Town section, the first Mexican-American South Pasadenan would not break through the racially restrictive housing covenants until 1964.4 Even today, many South Pasadena homeowners unknowingly live in houses with racist covenants still codified in their deeds.The legacy of these racist covenants can still be seen in South Pasadena today as the only major housing development to occur without the influence of such policies was the Altos de Monterey housing developments of the 1960s and 1970s, in what are known today as the Monterey Hills.3


1. Reft, Ryan. “Segregation in the City of Angels: A 1939 Map of Housing INequality in LA.” KCET.org. November 14, 2017. https://www.kcet.org/shows/lost-la/segregation-in-the-city-of-angels-a-1939-map-of-housing-inequality-in-la

2. Robinson, Greg. “Frank Chuman.” Densho Encyclopedia. http://encyclopedia.densho.org/Frank_Chuman/

3. Thomas, Rick. “Throwback Thursday: Altos de Monterey.” The South Pasadenan. July 25, 2019. https://southpasadenan.com/throwback-thursday-altos-de-monterey/

4. Loewen, James. W. Sundown Towns. New Press, 2005.