Segregation in Sacramento: Racial agreements shaped neighborhoods

Part One

It’s well known that the neighborhood people live in can dramatically determine their quality of life. Access to a higher standard of education, healthcare or fresh fruits and vegetables can vary hugely from neighborhood to neighborhood.

A Sacramento urban sociologist discovered the root of the problem in the region and says it has to do with a racial divide and inequality.

“I started comparing it to everything, like education and housing and health and all the social ills wound up in this north-south pattern of race and poverty,” says Jesus Hernandez.

Hernandez has a PhD from UC Davis and over 30 years in the real estate industry.

He has dedicated most of his life to studying and understanding social problems that affect neighborhoods and quality of life. His passion came from his own experience of being born and raised in Oak Park.

“It was pretty much the worst place in the county, and I can remember that in third grade that I wanted to study why this happened and how did this come to be?” Hernandez said.

Hernandez gave ABC10 data to compare neighborhoods in census tract 28, Oak Park, to census tract 24, Land Park.

In Land Park, the median household income is $141,000 and in Oak Park the median household income is $44,000.

In Land Park, nearly 70% of people have a bachelor’s degree or higher, and in Oak Park, it’s 17% who have a bachelor’s degree or higher.

In Land Park, the median net worth is a little over $859,000, and in Oak Park, it is $20,000.

The Oak Park area was one of the hardest hit in the recession between 2007 to 2010, also known as the subprime mortgage crisis. People lost their homes.

Unfortunately, those people do not live here anymore because of foreclosures,” Hernandez said. “You see this transfer of property going from poor people to investors. Now, there’s only 33% homeownership in this neighborhood.”

Hernandez traces back the stark difference between neighborhoods to race covenants.

The real estate industry played a significant role in housing segregation, not just in Sacramento, but across the nation.

As our cities began to grow, restrictive covenants became a way for city planners and real estate developers to implement their planning and design visions.

Race covenants controlled who could live on a property.

Beginning in 1913, the National Association of Real Estate Boards instructed its members not to contribute to race mixing through property sales and provided their members with templates for race covenants to use in new home construction.

This is an example of one dated 1941 from South Land Park.

It states “neither the whole or any part of said premises shall be sold, rented, or leased to any person or persons not of the white or Caucasian race.”

Race covenants were justified as a way to protect property values, and it became a way to create distinction and distance from what was perceived as less desirable residents, meaning people of color.

For almost half a century, race covenants were written into property deeds.

“East-west is where I tracked the pattern of race covenants, racially restrictive covenants, deed restrictions on property that limited the ownership to White people or members of the Caucasian race as it’s put on the deed restriction, so that you see this east-west pattern of affluence and this north-south pattern of racial concentration and poverty, and that’s how you get the X,” Hernandez said, referring to the “X” he uses to describe areas of the Sacramento region impacted by race covenants.

The neighborhoods he refers to in the north and south parts of Sacramento include North Highlands, Oak Park and many in South Sacramento.

The neighborhoods in the east and west include Land Park, Curtis Park, East Sacramento and Arden Park.

Neighborhoods where people of color could not live had decades of preferential treatment.

“Land Park was one of these neighborhoods, especially this park here helped us get out of the Great Depression,” Hernandez said. “You put all this public money into it, building parks, building ball fields, building the golf course.”

Land Park and other neighborhoods with race covenants enjoyed the benefits of parks, public transportation and even an abundance of trees.

“As these trees mature, so do the neighborhoods,” Hernandez said. “The values in these neighborhoods grow and because they had that public investment. You look over here, they build Sacramento City College, so it has all the tools it needs to thrive. This is the kind of public investment we’ve been putting into neighborhoods for decades.”

Based on Hernandez’s research, the neighborhoods that had race covenants were not only wealthier but healthier. Data shows fewer cases of asthma and even COVID-19 compared to the neighborhoods to the north and south.

Local developers used race covenants as late as 1960.

However, by that time, Sacramento was already shaped, and established neighborhoods defined by a lack of investment in some areas suffered.

“We pull money out of those neighborhoods and put it into other neighborhoods, so when you devalue the places where people live, you actually devalue the people,” Hernandez said. “When you do that, that’s how you create these biases that are so hard to undo today. So, rather than look at the processes that created that, we look at the people, which makes it even worse.”

Hernandez’s research is highlighted in a report that can be found here.






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