City council sets sights on removing discriminatory covenants from properties
“No person or persons other than of the Caucasian race shall be permitted to occupy said premises or any part thereof.”
That is a direct quote from a property deed on a Harriet Avenue parcel in central Richfield. One of 3,714 racial covenants placed on deeds within city limits that once determined who could purchase or live on the property.
At the city council’s April 13 meeting, the community’s elected officials voted unanimously to participate in the Just Deeds project to provide guidance, support and encouragement towards the discharge of racial covenants on Richfield property records. This will be accomplished through a partnership with residents, staff and volunteer attorneys.
“We are always looking for ways to make Richfield more equitable by addressing historic and systematic discrimination against our neighbors of color,” said Ward III City Councilmember Ben Whalen. “Partnering with residents to discharge the thousands of racial covenants on properties throughout the community is the right thing to do and in line with our goals.”
Racial or discriminatory covenants were a common tool used from the early 1900s through the 1960s to prevent Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC), and non-Christians from buying property and living in residential neighborhoods across the country, including in the City of Richfield.
These discriminatory practices had a far-reaching impact on the development of the Twin Cities and its communities of color, resulting in racially segregated communities and creating severe inequities between white and BIPOC communities. The lasting impacts of these disparities are still present today.
“Separate is never equal. And, that is exactly what racial covenants did to cities like Richfield; it separated the community by race,” remarked Mayor Maria Regan Gonzalez. “The effects of this type of segregation can still be felt today, where our communities of color have less access to quality of life resources, such as medical care, green spaces and schools.”
Discriminatory covenants were made illegal with the passage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, but the covenants remain on property deeds. The Just Deeds project gives homeowners the opportunity to renounce these racist covenants.
“When my family moved to Richfield more than a generation ago, my late Puerto Rican mother was not particularly welcome. There were questions from our neighbors whether she ‘belonged’ on our block,” remembered Ward I City Councilmember Simon Trautmann. “One of the reasons for this, in my opinion, was the pre-existing racial covenants placed on thousands of Richfield properties.”
Richfield’s Community Development Department created a webpage to provide information about racial covenants and the city’s participation in the Just Deeds project. Residents interested in removing a covenant from their property can fill out the form on the webpage. It can be viewed by visiting: richfieldmn.gov/justdeeds.
“By participating in the Just Deeds project, the city will commit to raising awareness of the inequities caused by these racist tools, renounce the covenants on our own city-owned properties, and assist residents with filing a discharge of any racial covenant that might exist on their property,” said Housing Manager Julie Urban.
Other Hennepin County cities, such as Golden Valley and Minneapolis, are partnering with the Just Deeds project to eliminate racial covenants in their communities.
The Minnesota Association of City Attorneys will be providing pro-bono services to assist people with the process of discharging covenants.
To learn if your property has a racial covenant, visit the Mapping Prejudice interactive map and search for your address.
Additional information on the Just Deeds Coalition can be found online at justdeeds.org.