Philadelphia’s History of 
Racially Restricted Housing

As part of the Philadelphia Fed’s efforts to understand how housing affects the economy in our District, our researchers are studying the links between past housing discrimination and present-day outcomes. A racial covenant was explicit language in a deed that prevented Black Americans and other people of color from buying or renting new property. A map of Philadelphia shows the location of thousands of properties that had racial restrictions in their deeds between 1919 and 1932. See the map to learn more about this history and its lasting impacts. Learn more about why this matters and what was happening in history and see a timeline of covenant usage.

Interactive Map

Philadelphia Properties with Racial Restrictions

Zoom in and click on the map to see where the properties with racial covenants were located and what the deeds said.

See an overlay that shows the distribution of Philadelphia's Black population in 1920 and explore how covenants may have contributed to the city's racial makeup. In the overlay, the deeds with covenants were generally located in areas with a low proportion of Black residents or in close proximity to areas with a high percentage of Black residents. Covenants kept Black Americans and other people of color from settling in certain parts of the city. Read more about racial covenants in Philadelphia.

Note: Areas on the map that appear to have no shading indicate neighborhoods in which the population has less than 10% Black residents; the views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia or the Federal Reserve System.

Sources: Santucci, Larry. "How Prevalent Were Racially Restrictive Covenants in 20th Century Philadelphia? A New Spatial Data Set Provides Answers." Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, Discussion Paper 19-05, 2019. Shertzer, Allison, Randall P. Walsh, and John R. Logan. “Segregation and Neighborhood Change in Northern Cities: New Historical GIS Data from 1900-1930,” Historical Methods, 49-4 (2016)

More About Racial Covenants

Two people sitting and smiling
Why This Matters

The place where someone grows up has a major impact on their opportunities in life — and those of their children. Although racial covenants were outlawed decades ago, researchers see links between past unequal access and what we see today in the racial wealth gap and other measures of economic opportunity.

Racial Covenant Text
Explore What Was Happening 
in History

Hundreds of thousands of poor, rural Black Americans migrated to northern cities in the early 20th century. Racial covenants were one of many tactics that White developers, builders, and homeowners used to limit where people of color could live. In Philadelphia, covenants kept people of color from settling in new developments and formed an invisible barrier around White neighborhoods.

View the Timeline

The use of racial covenants — one of many tools used to segregate neighborhoods — was widespread in urban housing markets in the early 20th century. Although in 1948 the Supreme Court ruled racial covenants unenforceable, they continued to play a role in federal housing policy for another 20 years.

About the Map

brick buildings

Housing is important to the U.S. economy and to individual financial well-being. Where someone lives affects their job, education, and other opportunities in life. As part of our efforts to identify issues and inform solutions related to the housing market and access to housing, the Philadelphia Fed is examining historical barriers to housing and their lasting impacts.

In this data visualization, you can see thousands of properties in the city of Philadelphia with deeds containing a racial covenant between 1919 and 1932. This map is part of a larger study examining the connection between racial covenants and residential segregation patterns, home prices, rental and homeownership rates, home equity accumulation, and transfers of wealth between generations.

Contact the Team

Larry Santucci


Senior Advisor and Research Fellow, Consumer Finance Institute

Daniel Moulton


Senior Manager, Data Science and Engineering, Consumer Finance Institute