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Minneapolis seeks more landlords for program to eliminate race pacts

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Jolynn Choy signed up for a voluntary program to break the decades-old racial alliance of her Minneapolis home, she said, because it’s personally important given her Asian lineage. Two other volunteer participants in the Just Deeds project, Mindy Travers and Nathan Morales, chose not to want to cast a racist stain on their neighborhood’s history.

So far they are the exception. After an initial surge of interest when the program to remove outdated racial restrictions from property deeds launched in March 2021, city staff said new inquiries have slowed.

To date, 733 racist pacts have been removed, out of more than 8,000 that were placed on homes across the city between 1910 and 1955, used as a means of maintaining white designated neighborhoods. City officials are trying to find ways to elicit stronger turnout.

“I think homeowners need to consider what leaves this racial alliance on their homes, what message it sends now about their values, to the community, to potential new homeowners in their neighborhood,” Assistant City Attorney Amy said. Schutt.

It has been illegal to enforce race covenants since at least 1968, but many of the restrictions remain in property records. Choy, who is half-Asian, called them “those spots that haunt people knowing that those things apply to you.”

Participants work with City Attorney’s Office staff to officially disavow and remove discriminatory restrictions at the county level, at no cost to the resident. The initial press release described it as helping homeowners “reclaim their homes as fair spaces.” There are 14 cities in Minnesota participating in the program.

According to a city spokesperson, Minneapolis has so far helped 456 homeowners fulfill their commitments through Just Deeds. 277 other properties had been unloaded before the program was created.

Now that fewer people are coming into town with applications, staff are spending more time reaching out to landlords who haven’t applied yet, Schutt said.

The pledge on his family’s home in the Kenny neighborhood of southwest Minneapolis brought back difficult memories for Choy about another outdated law that allegedly impacted his family. Choy’s father moved from Hong Kong to Tennessee in the 1970s for college and would later marry a white woman.

In 1967, a U.S. Supreme Court verdict struck down Tennessee’s law against interracial marriage, but the state never officially abolished it. Choy, 40, said the law made it look like the country was banning her own existence and reflected the disapproval interracial couples often face.

“The United States has this long history of allowing Asian men, and especially Chinese men, to immigrate to the country, but also that you can’t get married,” Choy said.

While Just Deeds won’t fix the city’s longstanding segregation and effects of redlining, Choy said she appreciates the city’s devoting resources to it.

“The fact that the city I live in has this program with public funds dedicated just to breaking up racial pacts, that seemed important to me,” she said.

Morales, a 43-year-old man who lives with his wife and children in the Longfellow neighborhood, said he hopes the removal of the pacts will help break down the stereotypes people have about different parts of the city.

“The impact of these pacts is something that is clear when you look at the socio-economic setup of the city,” he said. “It’s the foundation of how Minneapolis looks at itself.”

One trend was that blacks were prohibited from owning homes in all neighborhoods with covenants, Schutt said. The program also serves to further educate people about these racial disparities and how they persist today.

The project was made possible by the Mapping Prejudice team at the University of Minnesota, which in 2016 began work to find, map and visualize all alliances in the Twin Cities. There were 24,119 in Hennepin County and nearly 4,000 in Ramsey County.

A 2019 Star Tribune analysis found that Minnesota’s homeownership gap between white and black households was the third widest in the nation.

In interviews, landlords urged residents to also take steps to more directly address racial inequality in the city, such as supporting small businesses owned by people of color and pushing for equal quality schools across the board. districts.

“For something a little more tangible, I would say support BIPOC-owned businesses, make sure your neighbors have the opportunity to stay in your neighborhood and improve your neighborhood,” Morales said.

The specific restrictions of each pact varied in terms of target groups and other rules. Choy’s, for example, said non-whites could only occupy the house if they were the resident staff of a white owner.

Other owners said it specified that Jews were not allowed to own property. Bob Friedman, a semi-retired handyman, said he was motivated to fulfill his commitment by recalling the anti-Semitic signs his family encountered soon after moving from Chicago to the Twin Cities decades ago.

“We were looking for houses, and along the Road 100 construction in Edina, my father saw a big billboard that said in big letters, ‘No Jews or dogs allowed,’” said Friedman, who now lives in the Standish neighborhood of south Minneapolis.

The city had over 1,800 applicants for Just Deeds. Some owned properties ultimately had no covenant. In a few cases, the claimant was found not to own the property, a city spokesperson said.

Homeowners can apply for the Minneapolis Just Deeds Project by completing an online application at www2.minneapolismn.gov/government/departments/attorney/just-deeds and emailing it to JustDeedsProject@minneapolismn.gov .

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