St. Anthony resident Lisa Turnham attended a Mapping Prejudice presentation through her employer about racially restrictive covenants. After the presentation, she investigated her own property deed only to find that her home had a racially restrictive covenant that would make it illegal to sell her home to a person of color. Turnham contacted Golden Valley-based Just Deeds and began the process to discharge the covenant.
After several months, Turnham received the news that her home no longer had a racially restrictive covenant and said removing the language helps community inclusivity. “I want to live in a community that stands openly, firmly and proudly on the grounds that racism has no home here,” said Turnham. “Having the city of St. Anthony work with the Just Deeds coalition is a step in that direction for my community.”
The City of St. Anthony Village is partnering with Just Deeds to offer community members a no-cost option to remove racially restrictive covenants from property deeds. The city joined the Just Deeds coalition after Council Member Wendy Webster and city staff worked with Just Deeds to become a member. In fall 2021, the city began working with residents to remove racially restrictive language.
The racially restrictive language prevented homeownership based on race and at one time, created exclusive areas in the Twin Cities only available to those who identified as Caucasian. This practice, along with redlining, prevented many families of color from buying in and moving to certain Twin Cities neighborhoods.
Over the past century, discriminatory language formally placed in these older property deeds continue to show presence even though the practice was banned by the U.S. Congress in the Fair Housing Act of 1968.
Although the covenants are no longer enforced, the bigotry the words represent have some St. Anthony Village homeowners taking immediate action.
For homeowner Doug Fritze, removing the covenant was a “seamless process” once he took action to have the racially restrictive language removed from his property deed. When he purchased his home in 1984, Fritze was unaware the property deed had a restrictive covenant.
“What feels crappy is that [restrictive language] was there in the first place and I didn’t know about it [covenant],” said Fritze. “I look at the real estate transaction process from one person to the next and if you don’t take the time to go through all of that detail and read it all, you’re not going to know about it. You’re not going to discover it.”
The collaboration between St. Anthony and Just Deeds has led to six racially restrictive discharges from homeowner property deeds with nine additional properties in process of discharge. The city will continue to promote removing racially restrictive language from property deeds and plans to remain part of the Just Deeds coalition.
Just Deeds and Mapping Prejudice
When Golden Valley City Attorney Maria Cisneros found a restrictive covenant attached to her property deed, she immediately began the legal process to discharge the language. If the covenant was enforceable, her husband, who is from Venezuela, and their family, would be excluded from living in their preferred neighborhood.
Cisneros navigated the discharge process on her own and had the language removed. “My husband and I found the covenant when we were about to close,” said Cisneros. “This is something we would want to know while looking at the neighborhood–people of color especially feel that way. It’s a weird thing to find out after you already live there.”
After her own experience, Cisneros began the grassroots effort Just Deeds. The project’s intent is to help community homeowners discharge racially restrictive covenants at no cost but more importantly to educate the community about the negative effects and impact of residential segregation. “The most important metric for us is the community impact, what people are learning and how people are engaging with the topic,” said Cisneros.
The staff consists of volunteer attorneys, real estate agents and city partners. Just Deeds has 14 city coalitions and to date has successfully discharged 404 racially restrictive covenants.
Just Deeds also helps train realtors to talk with homebuyers about restrictive covenants. “We are making sure realtors are aware of this history and aware of what the impact has been on the communities they are working in,” said Cisneros. “They will have the tools to talk with their clients about it and answer questions their clients might have.”
Just Deeds collaborates with Mapping Prejudice, an ongoing project that maps where redlined homes are located in Hennepin County. The maps are a physical representation of how the covenants segregated neighborhoods. An interactive map is available online for homeowners who reside in Hennepin County. The map helps determine if homes might have a covenant attached to the property deed.
The project’s research helps shed light on the damage residential segregation and structural racism has in communities of color, including racial disparities in employment, education and health care. Most significantly, the research shows large homeownership gaps in communities of color.
Ramsey County map coming
Mapping Prejudice plans to release a preliminary Ramsey County map of homes with covenants this month. Homeowners residing in Ramsey County will be able to view the new interactive map and determine if a covenant is attached to their property.
Recently, Just Deeds and Mapping Prejudice coordinated a presentation for students at Mitchell Hamline School of Law. The students accessed records through Hennepin County to locate restrictive covenants and fill out a discharge form. Cisneros says once attorneys are trained, the discharge process happens quickly.
For the residents of St. Anthony who completed their covenant discharges, they hope other community members will also complete the process.
“I believe discharging these [restrictive] covenants is a first step in acknowledging the history of housing discrimination in Minnesota and my own community,” said Turnham. “Having the Just Deeds project is awareness-building and discharging my covenant is my first step in acknowledging that awareness. Having a process to discharge these [restrictive] covenants is the first step for our community to address and dismantle racism and housing discrimination.”
“It’s something I was made aware of [restrictive covenants], and it’s wrong,” said Fritze. “Here’s something simple I can do to remove it so it’s not wrong.”
Until the practice was outlawed, the federal government, which backed many home mortgages, rated neighborhoods for the likelihood of borrowers paying their mortgages. The presence of even one person or family of color was seen as a danger. The lowest end of the scale was red, thus, drawing a red line around an area made it difficult to obtain a mortgage.
The required continuing education module for all real estate brokers and sales people for the year ending June 30, 2022 covered the history of racism in real estate. While exact course content varies from vendor to vendor, restrictive covenants, redlining, the Fair Housing act of 1968 and other related legislation since then have been discussed in a 3.75-hour course.
To learn more or volunteer
Just Deeds is actively seeking volunteer attorneys and people interested in community engagement. More information about current city coalitions and additional opportunities is at https://justdeeds.org.
For more information about Mapping Prejudice and future dates for the Ramsey County map release, see https://mappingprejudice.umn.edu.
To have your deed reviewed for restrictive language in St. Anthony, visit www.savmn.com. St. Anthony residents can email Jennifer Doyle, human resources coordinator/deputy city clerk, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Northeaster editor Cynthia Sowden wrote a history of racial covenants in March 2020. Visit archives at: https://www.mynortheaster.com/wp-content/news-archives/200325Northeaster/#page=4
Editor’s note: According to the Waite Park Partners Facebook page, the Waite Park Community Council will be knocking on doors later this month to ensure all of the homeowners in the area are aware of restrictive covenants and know how remove them with the city’s help. If you want to help with this project, email the task force at email@example.com.
Below: Lisa Turnham and spouse Steve Botts in front of their St. Anthony home. (Photo by Marla Khan-Schwartz)