Racial Covenants Found in Deeds to Ann Arbor Homes

Since as early as 1912, racially restrictive covenants have been written into the deeds of many American homes. These covenants were designed to prohibit Black people from living in certain houses and neighborhoods. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 made covenants like these illegal, but they still remain written into deeds. 11% of neighborhoods in Ann Arbor still have racially restrictive covenants attached to them. A small local organization called Justice InDeed is working to “[find] ways to amend [deeds] and repeal the racial covenants without erasing or “whitewashing” history.”

In 1917, the Supreme Court deemed racially restrictive zoning unconstitutional. In response, racial covenants written into deeds became a popular loophole throughout the 1920s. Even though racial covenants are no longer enforceable, Justice InDeed still believes that they cause harm to the community. According to Justice InDeed, “Racially restrictive covenants remain on home deeds as repugnant reminders of the blatant racism that characterizes American housing practices.”

Subdivisions with racially restrictive covenants. Credit: Justice InDeed (2022)

Many homeowners today still find these covenants in their closing packets and feel discriminated against. Unfortunately, repealing restrictive covenants is easier said than done. Justice InDeed describes the process as, “complex, expensive, and time-consuming.” They are in talks with community partners about ways to repeal local restrictive covenants. 

A small subdivision of Ann Arbor, the Hannah subdivision, recently served as an experiment for Justice InDeed. The racially restrictive covenants attached to the subdivision were unique. They included steps that could be taken in order to repeal the covenants. Over 50% of the neighborhood’s population would need to sign a petition in order to show that the desire to repeal was shared. The experiment was a success and all racial covenants were removed from neighborhood documents. 

Justice InDeed plans on repeating similar processes for other subdivisions and neighborhoods all over Washtenaw county. It won’t be easy, but change never comes easily. Are you concerned about restrictive covenants in your home or neighborhood? Go to the Justice InDeed website and fill out their designated google form.  Maybe your subdivision could be next.