Experts agree: restrictive covenants, a foundation for HOAs, perpetuate housing segregation

By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities

A new research project at Augsburg University, Minneapolis, dubbed Mapping Prejudice, is combing through old deed restrictions to identify racial restrictions that were legal before 1968.

Researchers say the purpose of the study is to promote awareness of “the realities of structural racism” in Minneapolis, pointing out that restrictive covenants were created by and for the benefit of the real estate industry.

These “unjust deeds,” as one scholar has dubbed them, were the brainchild of the real estate industry. But they were quickly embraced by public officials, who saw them as a way to promote neighborhood stability. In the 1930s, federal housing administrators endorsed these legal instruments, requiring them for projects that used federally-backed financing. Lenders followed suit, accepting the rationale that covenants provided essential insurance for their investments in residential property. Banks made it a routine practice to “redline” or deny loans for properties in racially-mixed neighborhoods.

In addition to restrictions of non-White race, people of the Jewish faith were also commonly excluded from purchasing or leasing property in more desirable neighborhoods.


A recent article in Next City, includes some important analysis of Mapping Prejudice. I have included an excerpt below.

Researchers Are Mapping the Racist Foundations of Minneapolis Housing Patterns


Next City


According to Ehrman-Solberg, clusters of restrictive deeds correlate not only with white neighborhoods, but also with high property values. It stands to reason, considering that many neighborhoods have found ostensibly “race-blind” ways of locking demographics in place in the decades since explicit discrimination became illegal.

Becky Nicolaides, an independent scholar and research affiliate at the UCLA Center for the Study of Women who has studied suburbanization in Los Angeles, says that overt racial discrimination has been supplanted in many cases by “spatial politics.” A record like the one that the Mapping Prejudice team is working on is “intrinsically valuable,” Nicolaides says, but doesn’t necessarily get at the sometimes insidious policies — from land use restrictions to aesthetic and landscaping regulations — that serve to lock class-based segregation in place today.


Read more:

Nicolaides makes some excellent points.  She criticizes the very same “insidious” housing policies that HOA critics and supporters of private property rights have been making for years.

  • The notion of protecting property values has its roots in racial, ethnic, and religious discrimination.


  • Local government land use restrictions and zoning have made it difficult to impossible for many people of limited income – highly correlated with minority race and immigrant status – to lease or to own affordable housing.


  • Covenants, Conditions, & Restrictions (CC&Rs) – most often enforced by a homeowners, condominium, or cooperative association – work against homeowners and residents of lower socioeconomic classes.


  • Between enforcement of CC&Rs and rising assessments and maintenance fees charged by association-governing boards, a broad swath of the population of the U.S. is effectively priced out or forced out of what the industry calls “community associations.”


Today’s deed restrictions serve as covert methods to discriminate against homeowners and residents on many levels. For example:

  • Restrictions against pickup trucks or work vehicles effectively exclude the working class. Indeed, in many cases, developers intentionally build small driveways and garages to discourage parking of large vehicles in front of homes.


  • Rules against playing or riding bikes in common areas, streets, or parking areas, and restrictions against back yard play sets, disfavor families with children.


  • Strictly enforced aesthetic standards for exterior maintenance make homeownership difficult and expensive for older adults, especially those living on limited retirement income.


  • Rules that require architectural board approval for all exterior modifications create problems for people with disabilities, who may require wheelchair access ramps or specially equipped vehicles for transportation.


  • Restrictions against vegetable gardens, water-wise landscapes, solar panels, and the like, prevent homeowners and residents from saving energy, water, and money on utility expenses, favoring more affluent property owners.


  • Rules against holiday decor, religious symbols, flag and sign restrictions, emphasize cultural and political divisiveness.


As a nation, it is time for Americans to closely examine the role CC&Rs and HOAs have played in perpetuating class-based, racial, and ethnic stereotypes. Furthermore, as residents of the U.S., we must confront leaders in the real estate industry and housing policy makers at all levels of government. They must acknowledge that restricting private property rights and civil liberties, in the name of preserving property values, does great harm to the social fabric of our nation, and undermines the freedom of all Americans to pursue their dreams and to live in peace and harmony in their communities.

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