Homeownership is one significant way American families accrue wealth and pass it on to future generations.
Families of color were historically excluded from homeownership here in Roseville, in Minnesota, and in communities across the country through various mechanisms, including racial covenants that explicitly forbid non-white families from owning certain homes.
Roseville is now partnering with the Just Deeds Coalition to help discharge that discriminatory and illegal language from property titles.
Roseville is one of 19 cities collaborating with the nonprofit coalition, which helps property owners file the paperwork with county recorders to discharge that language free of charge.
“The collaboration with Just Deeds is one way the city is working to address and correct historical wrongs,” said Roseville’s Equity and Inclusion Manager Thomas Brooks.
Brooks said this work aligns with the theme for this year’s Black History Month: Black Resistance. This theme explores how African Americans have resisted historic and ongoing oppression, in all forms, such as racially restrictive covenants.
"Hundreds of Roseville properties included racially restrictive covenants as part of their official property titles at one point, according to the University of Minnesota’s Mapping Prejudice Project, which has “uncovered, documented, and mapped the systematic use of property deeds to enforce racial segregation in the Minneapolis area.”
“We find racial covenants on homes, park, and church properties because these institutions were established on land subdivided for residential neighborhoods,” said Roseville Senior Planner Bryan Lloyd, who has advocated for the process.
The Federal Fair Housing Act of 1968 attempted to protect buyers and renters from discrimination, including federal discrimination in homeownership, seen through redlining, and also made racially restrictive covenants unlawful. Although racial covenants are unlawful, that offensive and illegal language was not automatically stricken from official records.
When Kathy Ramundt bought her home in Roseville 13 years ago, she had no clue her property included a restrictive covenant. Her home was built in 1950.
“I thought maybe the houses in Roseville would be too new and would be built after the point of racial covenants,” Ramundt said.
Ramundt has now asked Just Deeds for help.
“I definitely want to have it removed,” she says.
According to Mapping Prejudice, these restrictive covenants have repercussions that have lasted well beyond the period when covenants were enforced.
“To this day, Minneapolis and St. Paul have among the lowest homeownership rates for Black households in the nation, and the areas that were covered by covenants in the mid-century are still the whitest and most affluent parts of the cities,” according to the Mapping Prejudice website.
Cindy Schwie has lived in her Roseville home for nearly 50 years. She first discovered her home had a restrictive covenant in the 1990s. That’s when she picked up the paper copy of her property abstract after being notified Ramsey County was digitizing its records and destroying the originals.
The restrictive covenant said the property should only be owned and occupied by Caucasians, with the exception of domestic servants.
“We were shocked. You read it, and you think oh my gosh this is barbaric,” Schwie said. “As a Caucasian person, we don’t understand this was going on right in front of our eyes.”
Because she had a copy of her abstract, Schwie was able to file the paperwork herself to discharge the restrictive covenant. The process was completed last June.
She said she’s happy to have it off her property, especially as she plans to welcome a new daughter-in-law to her family, who identifies as a person of color.
Members of Calvary Church on Lexington Avenue discovered that a portion of their property included a racial covenant from the 1920s.
“We were certainly surprised,” said Steven Taylor, a former church elder and a leader of the congregation’s Imago Dei Ministry Team.
Taylor notes that the property originally had five houses that were torn down for a building, parking, and green space expansion.
“We are a church that loves people, and then you have this attached to your deed. That obviously doesn’t square with our values,” Taylor said.
Leaders of the multicultural congregation have spoken with their attorney about the legal process of discharging the covenant and are now discussing how they want to acknowledge this situation amongst its members.
“We have some members who care deeply about this,” he said.