DALLAS — James McGee is well aware of the history of housing discrimination against black people like himself in Texas. He worked in the mortgage industry for 20 years and now advocates for the revitalization of South Dallas, an area where the majority of residents are black or Hispanic.
But it wasn’t until a few years ago that he learned that the deeds for many homes in his city and across Texas still had language prohibiting black people from living in those properties.
“History is history. As for what happened then, there is nothing we can do about it today. But when it comes to that language, it just sits there,” said McGee, who is president of the Southern Dallas Progress Community Development Corp. “It angers me that we haven’t thought of a solution for all these years.
Mainly between the 1920s and the 1960s, white landlords and neighborhood associations added clauses to property deeds that prohibited black people from owning or living in homes in specific areas across the United States. This, along with the federal practice of redlining — which made it harder to access housing loans in black and Hispanic neighborhoods — has cemented racial segregation in cities across the country.
The Supreme Court has ruled that courts cannot enforce these clauses in 1948, and they became illegal when the Fair Housing Act of 1968 outlawed racial discrimination in housing. But more than 50 years later, the deeds of an unknown number of properties across the state still contain language that only whites can reside there, though in some cases they included an exception for employees of residents. whites.
“The legal process to have it taken down is expensive and the process is quite complicated,” said Christina Rosales, deputy director of advocacy group Texas Housers.
This year, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick designated Senate Bill 30a bill that would make it easier to remove this language from the acts, as one of its 31 legislative priorities.
Houston resident Delma Catalina Limones recently found language in the deed to a home she is trying to purchase. It said, “The property shall not be conveyed to, owned, used or occupied by anyone other than white or Caucasian (this should be construed as limiting persons of Indian and Mexican descent; except that the retainer(s) Caucasian or Caucasian may occupy servants’ houses).
“It was a little shocking,” Limones said. “It’s currently a very Hispanic neighborhood, and that’s what drew me to this neighborhood, being able to find things from my community.”
Many owners don’t even know the language is there. When Kellie Nwokedi moved to Houston’s Old Braeswood neighborhood over a decade ago, she never read the deed. A few years ago, when fellow members of the neighborhood association told her that all deeds in their homes included language, she looked at his deed and discovered that he had once banned black people like her.
“We were surprised when we heard about it,” said Nwokedi, a 52-year-old who works in real estate. She then started volunteering with her neighbors to change the acts.
“It’s symbolic, but I guess you could say it’s parallel to the [Confederate] monuments, which are in public spaces,” said Nwokedi, who moved from Old Braeswood to a nearby area in 2019. “Knowing their history, they just don’t belong there.
Neighbors in Old Braeswood managed to change the deeds, but it wasn’t easy. They had to hire a lawyer and get the support of 75% of landlords in the area. They organized blocks of volunteers to inform everyone and spent months studying the legal possibilities.
“Changing the deed restrictions for something like this is harder than it should be,” said Julie Cohn, former president of the neighborhood association, adding that the combined attorney’s fees and costs County filings totaled between $6,500 and $7,000.
The bill in the Legislative Assembly, which has the support of the 31 members of the Senate, aims to facilitate this process in the future.
“SB 30 removes another brick from the walls that divide people based on their color or race that generations of conscientious Americans have struggled to dismantle,” the state senator said. Royce WestD-Dallas, who sponsored Senate Bill 30. pass.”
The bill would allow landlords to remove the language by filling out a form and filing it with their county clerk. State Senator John WhitmireD-Houston, who co-sponsored the bill with West, said this type of language is “much more prevalent than you might imagine” in Texas property deeds.
“Unfortunately, I noticed my act had such language in my neighborhood,” Whitmire said during a House hearing on Monday. “I didn’t know whether to burn the house down or come and vote on the law, and we took that positive path.”
The bill has been heard by the Senate State Affairs Committee, which has yet to vote.
Several black community housing advocates who spoke to the Texas Tribune said they appreciated the legislation, but were quick to point out that eliminating this relic of overt discrimination will have no direct effect on overcoming the persistent housing segregation that still exists in Texas. Most of the neighborhoods where this language was common were entirely white, and generations later they remain majority white.
“The issue of racial covenants is one that has vexed many places in the country, but it’s important to realize, as we get rid of this, that we also need to think about the current impact of racial inequality. “said Demetria McCain, president of the Inclusive Communities Project, an affordable fair housing nonprofit in Dallas. “It’s a good place to jump-start our conversation about other things in our history.”
McCain said that in Texas, landlords can still discriminate against people who receive subsidized housing allowances such as Section 8 vouchers because the state allows landlords to turn people away based on their source of income.
“It sounds neutral, but in Dallas and Texas a lot of the voucher holders are black,” McCain said. “If you discriminate against people with these vouchers, you discriminate against black people.”
There are bills in both houses that seek to end discrimination based on source of income — Senate Bill 265 and House Bill 1470 — but, other than SB 30, no housing-related bills have been designated as priorities by the governor or lieutenant governor.
“The [property deed] the language should have been changed, but over time there were other ways to discriminate against us,” said Monte Brown, president of the Dallas Association of Realtists, an association of black real estate professionals.
Brown said he still sees racial discrimination in lending practices and property valuations, issues that are far more important to him than changing words into acts that have no legal implications.
“I don’t see a reason to go through this, especially given how difficult it is” to remove language from acts, he said. “For me, it’s relevant to show the story as it happened.”
McGee, the South Dallas attorney, said he thinks the bill is necessary, but mostly sees it as “a nice gesture.” More should be done to overcome racial inequalities in housing, he said.
“Actually, we should probably demand things be done,” McGee said. “Although they have stopped redlining in broad daylight, they have never done anything to compensate for these disparities or discriminations that have occurred.”