Building White Suburbia
Building White Suburbia with CC&Rs
Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs) are text in a home deed that describes the things a homeowner can and cannot do with the property. Beginning in 1915, neighborhood developers added racial covenants into the CC&Rs of new homes, which restricted the property from being bought, rented, leased, or occupied by a person not of the white or Caucasian race. Starting in 1934, all of Roosevelt’s New Deal suburban developments were required to include racist covenants in the deeds. As a result, millions of homes in the U.S. were built restricting the sale to white people only. To this day, home deeds across the country still contain racist language prohibiting home resale to people of color.
The use of racial covenants was standard practice in the 1940s, when a huge population boom occurred in California. War jobs, like ship building, brought thousands of people to the Bay Area. The population almost doubled between 1940 and 1950, creating the need for more housing. New homes were built, but the CC&Rs included racially exclusive restrictions. For many cities, including San Leandro, African Americans were barred from buying or renting these new homes, further establishing San Leandro as an all-white community. For African American migrants in search of housing, these conditions limited where they could live to older, overpopulated neighborhoods.
The Rise of Homeowner Associations
In 1948, the Supreme Court determined racial covenants to be unconstitutional, making them unenforceable, but not outlawing them. In response to this decision some cities began looking for alternative ways to maintain their white exclusivity. One practice was the creation of homeowner associations, or “improvement associations,” which provided a loophole to exclude people of color. The associations carefully drafted legally valid covenants that did not stipulate race, color, or creed. Instead, the covenants gave power to association boards to determine if a potential tenant was “desirable”. If a property owner failed to comply with their association agreement, they faced significant, financial penalties. In San Leandro, by the late 1960s, this practice created 12 restrictive homeowners associations, representing 2/3 of property owners.
For decades, the 12 politically powerful San Leandro homeowner associations, realtors, and the San Leandro Chamber of Commerce worked to maintain the city as a racially exclusive suburb. Realtors regularly directed Black and Asian home buyers and renters to certain neighborhoods and away from others. Intimidation, fear mongering, and threats kept homeowners from selling or renting to a person of color. The same tactics were used towards people of color looking to buy or rent in San Leandro. Meanwhile city government took no action to protect housing rights. San Leandro’s reputation as a racist, suburban “white spot” was well-known throughout the Bay Area and would soon catch national attention.
Outlawing Housing Discrimination
In 1963 California passed the Rumford Act (also known as the California Fair Housing Act) to protect the rights of African Americans, and other people of color, to purchase or rent housing without being subjected to discrimination. In 1968 U.S. Congress passed the National Housing Act, which specifically prohibited housing discrimination by race, color, creed, and national origin. While this meant change was on the horizon, San Leandro still had a way to go before change would come about.
San Leandro was one of 113 California “Sundown Towns” - white communities that excluded people of color through discriminatory laws, harassment, threats, or violence. A person of color might be allowed to work or travel in a community during the daytime, but they must leave by sundown. In San Leandro there is no record of posted warning signs, however verbal warnings, harassment, and intimidation were used to enforce the unwritten law.
The California Real Estate Association launched a campaign to repeal the Rumford Act, citing that it went against “property owner rights”. Prop 14 was found to be illegal by the California Supreme Court in 1966 and the Rumford Act was reinstated.
Toward the end of WWII, the government began plans to release the thousands of Japanese Americans imprisoned in internment camps. Organizations throughout California openly opposed the return of Japanese Americans to the West Coast. In San Leandro these opposing views were expressed in the local paper with calls for not allowing Japanese to return.