One in 10 Bay Area Neighborhoods are Segregated Areas of White Wealth

July 27, 2022

Mapping racial and economic segregation across the nine-county Bay Area’s 1,572 census tracts reveals that 164 census tracts are highly segregated areas of white wealth while 27 census tracts are segregated areas of Black, Latinx, or Asian American and Pacific Islander poverty. From updating housing elements to examining new zoning considerations and the placement of affordable housing, policymakers and local leaders can employ these maps to help disrupt regional segregation.

By Ángel Mendiola Ross

Segregation is a pervasive and enduring pattern of metropolitan life, with steep social, political, and economic consequences for both individuals and communities. And it takes a deep toll: In the Chicago region, for example, high levels of racial and economic segregation cost residents an estimated $4.4 billion a year in foregone income, 229 additional lives lost to violence, and 83,000 fewer bachelor’s degrees. Here in the Bay Area, the most comprehensive analysis of segregation in the region by the Othering and Belonging Institute shows that racial segregation is as severe or worse today than it was a generation ago, despite an end to the explicit government-led practices that created and upheld it.

Most studies of segregation examine either racial and ethnic segregation or economic segregation. While valuable, these measures miss the important intersection between race and class. The Index of Concentration at the Extremes, developed by sociologist Douglas Massey, is a measure of both. It measures the continuum of geographically concentrated racialized (dis)advantage across a region, highlighting areas of concentrated racialized wealth and deprivation. Part of Massey’s rationale behind the creation of this measure was a relative lack of focus on the geographic concentration of wealth.1

Data and Methods

The Index of Concentration at the Extremes measures two different racial groups (e.g., Black and white) at opposite ends of the income spectrum by neighborhood. The Index is a census tract-level measure that illustrates the variation in racial-economic segregation across neighborhoods. In this analysis, we look at wealthy white households in relation to low-income Black, Latinx, and Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) households. To calculate the Index, we subtract the number of Black, Latinx, or AAPI households living on low incomes from the number of high-income white households and divide the difference by the total number of households in each census tract. The Index thus ranges from -1 to 1, where -1 would represent a theoretical neighborhood consisting entirely of low-income Black, Latinx, or AAPI households and 1 would represent a neighborhood consisting entirely of high-income white households. Following Massey’s cutoff, we define neighborhoods as areas of concentrated white wealth if they score above 0.3 on the Index and areas of concentrated racialized poverty if they score below -0.3. For this analysis, “high income” is defined as at the 80th percentile of the regional household income distribution ($200,000 a year or more) and “low income” corresponds to the 20th percentile of the household income distribution ($45,000 a year or less). Data comes from the 2019 five-year American Community Survey summary files from the US Census. 

This analysis uses the Index of Concentration at the Extremes to analyze patterns of racialized economic segregation across the Bay Area. We use the Index to identify areas of concentrated white wealth and areas of concentrated disadvantage for Black, Latinx, and Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) residents. We also use the Index to map segregated white homeowner neighborhoods.

Measuring current levels of racial-economic segregation underscores that deep and persistent pockets of both white wealth and Black, Latinx, and AAPI poverty persist in the Bay Area, despite the region’s diversity and progressivism. It also illustrates the extent to which concentrated white wealth is a major driver of the region’s socioeconomic segregation: there are six times as many neighborhoods of concentrated white wealth than there are neighborhoods of concentrated Black, Latinx, or AAPI poverty. And it reveals the region’s geographic divide between renters of color and white homeowners.

Bridging these racial, geographic, and income divides is critical to securing a future in which all Bay Area residents belong and prosper. Segregation hinders the region’s prosperity and affects everyone; from public officials and planners to police officers and public health officials, we all have a role in reducing these racial and economic divides.

Policymakers and advocates can use the maps and the underlying data to better understand the extent of racial-economic segregation in their communities and inform decision-making on important issues, including where to build and preserve housing for people living on low incomes, how to ensure access to quality schools for all children, and where to invest in transportation and neighborhood improvements. The process of updating local housing elements that describe how to meet affordable housing needs in all communities across California is a particularly important opportunity for addressing racial-economic segregation.

A majority of the segregated neighborhoods of white wealth are in the region’s urban core

Across the Bay Area, 164 (10 percent) of the region’s 1,572 census tracts are areas of concentrated white wealth, meaning they have a threshold of .3 or higher on the Black-white, Latinx-white, and AAPI-white Index of Concentration at the Extremes. These highly segregated neighborhoods are located in seven of the region’s nine counties, with over half located in San Francisco, San Mateo, and Contra Costa Counties. Solano and Sonoma Counties are the only counties without a highly segregated neighborhood of white wealth.

A look at the demographics of these neighborhoods of concentrated white wealth reveals the extent to which low-income Black, Latinx, and AAPI households are excluded from wealthy white enclaves compared with their white counterparts. Neighborhoods in Belvedere and Woodside top the list of the 20 most segregated neighborhoods in terms of white wealth. In these two areas, there are no Black or Latinx households with incomes under $45,000 and just a handful of low-income AAPI households, yet there are more than 100 low-income white households in each census tract, casting doubt on explanations of purely income-based segregation. In fact, only one neighborhood on this list (in Orinda) is home to any low-income Black households and only four are home to low-income Latinx households (though the number of low-income Black or Latinx households is under 50). For low-income AAPI households, only one neighborhood, in Atherton, has more than 50 households. Meanwhile, neighborhoods in Portola Valley, Mill Valley, and Orinda have more than 200 lower-income white households.

In some cases, entire cities are areas of concentrated white wealth. All four census tracts in Orinda are areas of concentrated white wealth, according to the Index. In these areas, most households have incomes over $200,000 and almost all are white. Citywide, there are over 500 low-income white households compared with no low-income Latinx households and less than 20 low-income Black households. The vast majority of the relatively small number of renters in Orinda are white.

Both neighborhoods that make up Los Altos Hills in Santa Clara County are also classified as highly segregated. Of the more than 150 low-income households in Los Altos Hills, all are white. The situation is similar in cities like Atherton, Hillsborough, Piedmont, and Tiburon — each of these cities is made up entirely of neighborhoods of concentrated white wealth.

In San Francisco, the most segregated neighborhood when it comes to concentrated white wealth is the Presidio. Nearly 600 high-income white households and 66 low-income white households call the Presidio home, but the neighborhood has no low-income Black or Latinx households. In Alameda County, Piedmont ranks the highest on the Index at 0.52, followed by a handful of neighborhoods in the Oakland Hills and Berkeley. Less than 20 low-income Black households reside in the 10 most segregated neighborhoods in Alameda County. In Napa County, only three neighborhoods — all located just outside the Napa city limits — are areas of concentrated white wealth.

No census tracts in Solano and Sonoma Counties scored above 0.3 on the Index. These counties are slightly less segregated though segregation persists in certain pockets in Santa Rosa, unincorporated areas, and Vacaville. One Santa Rosa neighborhood near the Bennett Valley Golf Course scored 0.28 on the Index, and a census tract in unincorporated Sonoma County near the Russian River scored 0.27. Most of the higher scoring tracts in Solano and Sonoma Counties also have few to no low-income Black households and less than 50 low-income Latinx households, even as the vast majority had over 100 low-income white households. Yet they have fewer high-income white households and therefore score lower than the richer counties in the core of the region.

27 Bay Area Neighborhoods are Predominantly Black, Latinx, or AAPI and Low-Income

Systemic inequities have relegated many Black, Latinx, and AAPI residents to disinvested, higher poverty neighborhoods that limit access to jobs, services, high-quality education, parks, and other amenities that are key to economic success. The cascading and negative effects of living in these areas of concentrated disadvantage often influence outcomes beyond individual or family-level characteristics.

11 Census Tracts are Classified as Highly Segregated for Low-income Black Households

For low-income Black households, 11 census tracts in the region have Index scores below -0.3 and are classified as areas of concentrated racialized disadvantage. Five of these neighborhoods are in Oakland, three in San Francisco, and one each in Vallejo, Pittsburg, and Antioch. Over 1,000 low-income Black households live in one Oakland neighborhood, just blocks away from the Coliseum. The neighborhood has no high-income white households and less than 100 low-income white households. Most of these highly segregated neighborhoods also had at least 100 low-income Latinx households except for one Coliseum neighborhood, one West Oakland neighborhood, and one San Francisco Bay View neighborhood (all of which are predominately Black).

5 Census Tracts are Classified as Highly Segregated for Low-income Latinx Households

For low-income Latinx households, five neighborhoods surpass the -0.3 threshold. These neighborhoods were in Marin, Alameda, Contra Costa, and San Mateo Counties. Consistent with findings from earlier research on segregation in the Bay Area, the most segregated neighborhood for low-income Latinx households is the Canal Area in San Rafael. Over 700 low-income Latinx households live in the Canal Area, compared with roughly 100 low-income white households and just a handful of high-income white households. Yet less than 10 low-income Black households reside in the Canal Area. The other highly segregated neighborhoods are located in East Oakland, South Concord near Four Points, North Fair Oaks in San Mateo County, and Richmond. Only the Oakland neighborhoods, however, have at least 100 low-income Black households.

The neighborhoods that rank highest on Black-white segregation also tend to rank relatively high on Latinx-white segregation. Yet not a single neighborhood ranked below -0.3 on both Black-white and Latino-white segregation, suggesting that most of the most highly segregated neighborhoods were comprised largely of low-income Black or low-income Latinx households. In one San Francisco Bay View neighborhood, for example, there were over 600 low-income Black households but roughly 100 low-income Latino households. In another highly segregated Vallejo neighborhood, there were nearly 600 low-income Black households but less than 150 low-income Latino households.

11 Census Tracts are Classified as Highly Segregated for Low-income Asian American/Pacific Islander Households

For Asian American/Pacific Islander (AAPI) households, another 11 neighborhoods rank below -0.3 on the AAPI-white Index. These neighborhoods are all located in three counties: San Francisco, Alameda, and Santa Clara. The most segregated neighborhood is near San Francisco’s Chinatown, and it ranks -0.73 on the Index. This census tract is home to roughly 1,550 low-income AAPI households and just over a dozen high-income white households. In another San Jose neighborhood near the Chinese Cultural Garden, there are over 750 low-income AAPI households and only 22 low-income white households.

One in Three Bay Area Neighborhoods are Areas of Segregated White Homeowners

We also ranked all Bay Area census tracts based on the Index of Concentration at the Extremes where the comparison groups were Black, Latinx, or AAPI renters and white homeowners. The scores were much more extreme than the income-based measures. Looking at tracts with index scores above 0.3, we found that:

  • 668 neighborhoods (42 percent) have high Black renter-white homeowner segregation,

  • 604 neighborhoods (38 percent) have high AAPI renter-white homeowner segregation, and

  • 583 neighborhoods (37 percent) have high Latinx renter-white homeowner segregation.

Neighborhoods ranking highest in terms of white homeowner segregation had few renters overall. The renters that are living in these neighborhoods are overwhelmingly white. In one Walnut Creek neighborhood, for example, the Index is 0.91. The neighborhood is 94 percent white with no Black renter or homeowner households, less than 10 Latinx homeowners, and less than 60 AAPI homeowners. There are only a few dozen renters, but all are white. In another Walnut Creek neighborhood, the Index is 0.84 — slightly lower because there are a handful of Black and Latinx homeowners and roughly 200 AAPI homeowners, but no Black, Latinx, or AAPI renters. There are more than 50 renters in the neighborhood, but all are white.

The situation is similar in many cities across the region, from Santa Rosa, San Rafael, and Belvedere to Danville, Berkeley, and Los Gatos. Most exclusively white homeowner census tracts may have some Black and Latinx households, but those households are also homeowners. In fact, there are 16 census tracts in the region where all renters are white. Each of these neighborhoods is also an area of segregated white homeowners (i.e., they rank above 0.3 on the white homeowner-Black/Latinx/AAPI renter Index). More than 400 renters live within one census tract in San Rafael, and 100 percent of them are white.

The highest overall levels of renter segregation, however, are in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Chinatown is the densest neighborhood in the city and is a vibrant community hub with resources and supports for the community’s sizable low-income, immigrant, and senior populations. Three Chinatown census tracts rank between -0.72 and -0.89 on the Index of white homeowners and AAPI renters. One neighborhood near the Chinatown YMCA, for example, is home to nearly 2,000 API renters but only 20 white homeowners. In another highly segregated neighborhood for AAPI renters in Fremont, there are nearly 1,500 AAPI renters and just a couple dozen white homeowners.

Building a More Equitable Region Requires Confronting Racial and Economic Segregation

Segregation (re)produces social inequality, as residents in neighborhoods of concentrated wealth experience compounded advantage and those in concentrated poverty experience heightened disadvantage. To remedy the enduring legacy of segregation and create a region where all can participate and prosper, we must address restrictive land use policies that allow exclusionary neighborhoods to remain disproportionately rich and white. The California H.O.M.E. Act (Senate Bill 9), for example, will give many homeowners in neighborhoods zoned for single-family homes the right to divide their lots in half and build up to three additional homes on them. This law has the potential to open up some of these more restricted neighborhoods to lower-income residents and people of color. Local governments in the Bay Area are also in the process of updating their housing elements. This part of municipal general plans details both where new housing will be built at different levels of affordability (based on their Regional Housing Needs Allocation, or RHNA, as prescribed by the Association of Bay Area Governments) and any policies that will help jurisdictions meet their housing needs. This process provides a welcome opportunity for cities and towns to confront segregation within their borders and chart a different path forward. Other solutions that help combat racial segregation, recently described in an Othering and Belonging Institute brief, include expanding rent control and just cause for eviction protections that help to prevent displacement, adopting inclusionary zoning, and expanding affordable housing policies.

Massey, Douglas. 2001. “The Prodigal Paradigm Returns: Ecology Comes Back to Sociology.” In Does It Take a Village?