St. Paul makes it easier for homeowners to remove racial covenants from property deeds

The City of St. Paul took a step toward addressing historically racist land use policies on Monday by making it easier for residents to remove discriminatory language on their property deeds that once banned African Americans and other people of color from owning property in certain neighborhoods. 

The city joined the Just Deeds Coalition, becoming the 19th city in Minnesota to establish a partnership with the Just Deeds Project. The nonprofit works with city attorneys to make it easier for residents to remove racial covenants, from property deeds. While no longer legally enforceable, the covenants can still be found on the deeds of homes across the country. Mapping Prejudice, a project at the University of Minnesota, has identified 30,000 racial covenants in property deeds of homes in Hennepin and Ramsey counties. 


Just Deeds helps homeowners identify and remove racial covenants

Racial covenants were used to keep Black people from buying homes in Minnesota cities, but a local group is working to remove that language from homeowners' deeds.

"But by saying we're going to eliminate that language, we're going to move it out, we're going to erase it completely. That means we're building a new legacy in our community," St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter said at a press conference Monday. "That means we're building a legacy of fairness. That means we're building a legacy of justice. That means we really are building a legacy of equity."

St. Paul City Attorney Lindsey Olsen said the impact of the covenants is still visible in St. Paul in the form of segregated neighborhoods, concentrated poverty and urban violence.

"The work is an opportunity to raise awareness of how our past affects our present and to work together for anti-racism in this present moment," she said. 

The first racial covenant removed in St. Paul as part of the partnership was on the deed of the Rondo Community Land Trust, an affordable housing and commercial land trust operating in St. Paul and Ramsey County.

Mikeya Griffen, the nonprofit’s executive director, said it had been a "gut punch" to discover language on the deed of their headquarters, which is on Selby Avenue in St. Paul’s historic Rondo neighborhood, stipulating the property "could not be leased or owned by a colored person."

"There are literally no words that can describe when you put those two together, what that means when you think about displacement and lack of access," she said. 


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The city is also working with the Center for the Study of Black Life and the Law at Mitchell Hamline School of Law to identify volunteer attorneys and law students to assist with the effort.  

St. Paul residents can research whether their property has a racial covenant at Residents can begin the free process of removing it with assistance from the city attorney’s office and the Just Deeds Coalition.