U.S. Senator Tina Smith Introduces Legislation to Examine History of Racially Restrictive Covenants

WASHINGTON, D.C. [7/29/21]—Today, U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) introduced legislation to examine the history of racially restrictive covenants—which were used as tools of discrimination to keep Black families and households of color from moving into certain neighborhoods—so we can better understand the scope of these covenants.

Sen. Smith’s Mapping Housing Discrimination Act is inspired by work being done at the University of Minnesota to map racially restrictive covenants, which will help to study the connection between past discrimination and current disparities in wealth, homeownership, employment, education, health care, and much more.

You can access a summary of the bill here and text of the bill here.

“As Chair of the Housing, Transportation, and Community Development Subcommittee in the Senate, one of the ways I can work for Minnesotans in Washington is to identify the source of disparities in wealth and homeownership, and go to work on figuring out how to close those gaps. Racially restrictive covenants and other forms of historic housing discrimination played a key role in shaping neighborhoods during the 20th century, and the legacy of these policies is still felt today. We know that Black homeownership lags in the Twin Cities, and families of color are still impacted by the undervaluing of homes in certain neighborhoods. I’m inspired by the work being done at the University of Minnesota to map racially restrictive covenants so we can better understand which communities were impacted by these policies in our own backyard,” said Sen. Smith. “My bill would support other universities in doing the same kind of research so that more communities have a better understanding of past housing discrimination and can address these disparities going forward.”

“For years, researchers and policymakers wondered how much land was reserved for white people through the racist restrictions that were embedded in property deeds. This legislation will help communities all over the country answer that question. And that’s important because we are grappling today with the legacies of racial covenants and the other discriminatory housing policies. This granular data will help communities craft targeted efforts to address the racial disparities in homeownership, wealth, and housing stability that have grown so large over the last century.  These efforts are essential to a just future,” said Kirsten Delegard, Co-Founder and Project Director of the Mapping Prejudice Project at the University of Minnesota.

“In communities across the nation, exclusionary housing policies created both the segregation of people by race and ethnicity and the segregation of resources and opportunity.  Sadly, the remnants of these discriminatory policies remain, and many have no idea about the racist history in their own communities or how the legacy of discrimination continues to affect millions of people.  The reality is that racial covenants, exclusionary zoning, deed restrictions, and other local laws and policies shaped the ways in which our neighborhoods developed, fashioned how resources were deployed, and perpetuated the racial wealth gap.  The Mapping Housing Discrimination Act sponsored by Senator Tina Smith would support researchers and educational institutions in documenting and making public this history so that we can use it to inform housing and community development planning moving forward. We urge the Senate to pass the Mapping Housing Discrimination Act,” said Lisa Rice, President and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance.

Underwriting practices like ‘redlining’ that provided the underpinnings of residential segregation are being documented. However, legal structures such as restrictive covenants and deeds are not as well understood and require greater documentation and scholarship to assess their impact.  This work will continue to inform the national conversation around racial equity and the public policies adopted to achieve it.  We applaud Sen. Smith for recognizing that the federal government should play a role in facilitating this long overdue work,” said Jesse Van Tol, CEO of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition.

The Mapping Housing Discrimination Act would:

·Create a competitive grant program for educational institutions to conduct primary data analysis of local historic property records from 1850-1988 for the purpose of identifying racial covenants and racially restrictive language;

·Support efforts by local governments to digitize historic deeds and other property records at the local level; and

·Create a national, publicly available database at the Department of Housing and Urban Development of historic housing discrimination patterns in property records, including local datasets produced by grant recipients.

Sen. Smith’s legislation is cosponsored by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), and the bill is endorsed by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, Economic Policy Institute, National Association of REALTORS, UnidosUS, National Fair Housing Alliance, NAACP, Center for Responsible Lending, National Low Income Housing Coalition, Mortgage Bankers Association, National Community Stabilization Trust, Up for Growth Action, National Association of Real Estate Brokers, Hennepin County Board of Commissioners, Minnesota Housing Partnership, National Alliance of Community Economic Development Associations (NACEDA) and Minnesota Homeownership Center.