Impact of Racial Covenants in the Twin Cities 

Impact of Racial CovenantsWhile we are known for being “Minnesota nice” and our beautiful lakes, it is important to understand the ugly truth and inequalities that exist in our own backyard.  The Twin Cities have some of the greatest racial disparities in housing (racial covenants), income, and education.  Bringing awareness and educational opportunities of the historical injustices are just the beginning towards real change.

Racial covenants embedded in our real property deeds are just one example of the historical racial discrimination people of color have faced in Minnesota.  One common restriction embedded in Hennepin County property deeds declared that the “premises shall not at any time be conveyed, mortgaged or leased to any person or persons of Chinese, Japanese, Moorish, Turkish, Negro, Mongolian or African blood or descent.” Covenants and clauses such as this were inserted into property deeds to keep people who were not White from buying or occupying homes.  While such covenants have not been legally enforceable in Minnesota since 1948, their continued existence in official recorded documents are a reminder of the power of racial discrimination.

Today, we realize the impact these racial restrictions had on homeownership rates for African Americans as the Twin Cities metropolitan area has one of the lowest African American homeownership rates in the country.  Systemically preventing African Americans and other persons of color from accessing stable housing and economic advancement has had multigenerational effects. Housing is just one way people provide for their families, passing their homestead on to future generations.

Removing these restrictive covenants is an important step forward to understanding and taking action against the structural racism in Minnesota.  Minnesota Statute 507.18 provides that the owner of any interest in real property may record a statutory form with the county recorder where the real property is located, to discharge and release a restrictive covenant related to a protected class permanently from the title.

The Mapping Prejudice Project at the University of Minnesota Libraries has spent the last several years mapping racial covenants embedded in property deeds throughout Hennepin and Ramsey County.  The Just Deeds Project utilizes volunteer attorneys throughout twenty cities in the greater metropolitan area, to identify and remove such covenants from real property deeds. There is no charge to the public to use the Just Deeds Coalition.  If interested, you may apply on their website and a volunteer attorney will be assigned to you that is specific to your county.  The attorney will identify if a covenant exists on your property.  If a covenant does exist, they will assist you in preparing and recording the discharge form to remove the covenant from your property.  You may also use the virtual map provided by the Mapping Prejudice Project to see if your property has a restrictive covenant.  Using the resources provided by groups such as The Mapping Prejudice Project and the Just Deeds Coalition help us understand our history and take action to correct it.