NewsTeam 10 Investigates


Bill looks to remove racist language in housing deeds

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Posted at 6:08 PM, Sep 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-24 21:08:15-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - A bill is on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk that would remove offensive and racist language from housing documents across the state.

Assembly Bill 1466, which was passed by the legislature, would make it easier for homeowners to remove a racial covenant from the deed of their home.

According to the bill’s language, a racially restrictive covenant was an agreement prohibiting the homeowner from selling or renting the property to members of a specific race, ethnic, or religious background. It was a legal form of segregation in the early to mid 1900s.

“We’re going to make it easier to lower the barriers for people to go and change and get rid of the racist words in their deeds,” said California Assemblymember Kevin McCarty.

McCarty says it would also set up a process that would map the racially restrictive covenants across the state and remove them from their deeds.

“This came about for me about 20-something years ago for me on a personal level,” McCarty said. “When I bought my first house in my mid-20s here in Sacramento, my realtor said, hey, I know about your family history. I know you come from a diverse background.”

McCarty says his realtor told him, “‘Hey on these pages in here there’s some very racially insensitive wording in here about essentially white’s only,’ and so that kind of flagged me that, huh, why do these exist. I wasn’t a lawmaker then, and I thought, hey, maybe one day we can fix these.”

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According to an appendix of a City of San Diego report on fair housing, several intersecting and overlapping factors have impacted patterns of segregation and integration over the course of the city’s history.

“These factors include white flight; housing costs; access to well-paying jobs and economic mobility; racially and economically restrictive covenants within real estate deeds; redlining; discriminatory real estate practices; zoning; freeway construction; ballot initiatives; and public resistance to increased housing and density,” the report states.

It noted these covenants targeted all minorities but were especially discriminatory against African Americans, Mexican Americans, and Asians, so these groups settled in the older communities of southeastern San Diego and Barrio Logan where such restrictions were absent or were not enforced.

A spokesperson for the city says it produced the Fair Housing Assessment report as part of the General Plan Housing Element, and they relied on various resources to put the report together.

“To the City’s knowledge, racially restrictive housing covenants were employed by real estate developers from the early 1900s through the 1950s. The city is not aware of any comprehensive analysis of racially restrictive covenants in deeds for properties within the city of San Diego. However, the book “The Other Side of the Freeway” by LeRoy Harris and other academic and journal articles provide evidence that racially restrictive covenants were used in areas including La Jolla, Point Loma, and much of central San Diego south of Interstate 8, east of Interstate 5 and north of SR-54, which is where the majority of the developed areas of the city were at that time. World War II defense worker housing in the Midway and Linda Vista areas, which were substantially undeveloped at that time, allowed some Black, Latino and Asian workers and families to live in areas of the city where they otherwise would have been excluded. However, after the war, most of the integrated defense housing developments were demolished and others were sold primarily to white homebuyers. While the Supreme Court decision in the Shelley vs. Kraemer case in 1948 ruled racially restrictive covenants unconstitutional, some deeds within central San Diego that were recorded after the decision in the 1950s continued to include racially restrictive covenants.”

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Vicenta Martinez Govea is a researcher with the McNair Research Program at the University of San Diego.

She published a research paper titled “America’s Finest Housing Crisis: Racialized Housing and Suburban Development.” The research focused on the Linda Vista area.

“I learned about Linda Vista’s defense housing which was in the early 1940s, and I learned about this inclusive community that welcomed everyone. But when I looked at census data, I realized that there was a very low black and non-white population. So, the majority of people living there were white, and I was like, how did this come to be? If it’s so inclusive, why aren’t there any people of color living here, and then that’s when I came to learn about racial deeds, racial covenants, enforcement through deeds, but also at the individual level.”

Martinez Govea’s findings led her to research on other communities in the San Diego area.

“Linda Vista, Clairemont, the majority of La Jolla which was covered with deed restrictions excluding people of color from living within the community,” she said.

She says she felt the impacts of the research on a personal level.

“It’s not just an attack to a person of color or a community. It’s an attack to an individual,” she said. “So let’s say I buy a house today, and I see that it says there this home can only be inhabited by a Caucasian and I don’t identify as that, that’s kind of attacking. That means that I don’t feel welcomed in my own home.”

Researchers say although the covenants were ruled illegal, the wording was used for years later to keep people out of certain neighborhoods.

McCarty hopes his bill will become law and become an important step in bringing racial justice to Californians.