Discriminatory and racist policies that prevented people of color from purchasing homes have been illegal in the United States since 1964, yet many property deeds still contain language that shows how certain populations were intentionally excluded from renting or purchasing homes in all parts of the country.
The County of Marin is taking steps to identify and rectify historical documents and records that reflect its shameful past.
On May 25, the Marin County Board of Supervisors accepted a staff report about a new Restrictive Covenants Project that aims to inform and educate Marin County residents of the history and significance of government policies and programs that were intentionally discriminatory and helped create segregated communities in Marin. The use of racially restrictive covenants prohibited the purchase, lease, or occupation of a piece of property to a particular group of people, primarily Black and African Americans. And while those covenants are illegal today, many continue to remain in property deeds throughout Marin.
Through the collaboration of the Community Development Agency, the County’s Office of Equity and the Assessor-Recorder’s Office, residents of Marin are offered several ways to participate in the project.
Residents are able to certify and affirm that illegal and racially restrictive covenants are unconstitutional and violate current laws and County values. Those residents who own homes built in 1970 or earlier are encouraged to check the Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions (CC&Rs) mentioned in their real estate documents to see if discriminatory language exists. If found, the property owner will have a chance to file a public statement protesting the offensive passages.
Residents, former residents, and families who currently or formerly lived in Marin are invited to share personal stories about their lived experiences beginning with the Marinship years, to help create a narrative history of our County.
Homeowners can record a Restrictive Covenant Modification document with the Assessor- Recorder’s office. “We don’t want to hide our discriminatory history but instead acknowledge it and increase awareness of how it affected housing in Marin and how those policies disproportionately affected people of color,” said Shelly Scott, the County’s Assessor/Recorder/County Clerk. “Modifications and amendments can be recorded with the original recording to alert the public that the document is no longer valid.”
As part of the County’s Analysis of Impediments to Fair Housing Choice, the history of “redlining,” or drawing boundaries to show where people of color were allowed or not allowed to live prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Public discussions about fair housing and restrictive covenants over the past few years marked the first time many Marin residents became aware of local discriminatory housing policies. Property owners began to identify deeds that excluded potential property buyers if they were African American, Asian American, or of Jewish descent, or stated that the property only could be sold to somebody who was White or Caucasian. Such language was commonplace all over American prior to the mid-1960s.
The goal is about public education as County CDA embarks on its Housing Element Update, which shows how Marin plans to accommodate potential growth in the coming years. As part of the Restrictive Covenant Program, organizers hope to create a mapping tool that will fill in blanks about Marin’s past practices of redlining.
The County’s Office of Equity, established in 2020, has engaged residents and County employees to develop and advance racial equity both internally and with communities. Acknowledging and highlighting historic and discriminatory policies that were created by federal and local governments allows for a more honest and open dialogue with people who continue to be impacted by such actions, and it provides a context for all residents of Marin to understand and accept the county’s history.
“This project is part of a larger racial awareness and reckoning that is happening throughout our county,” said CDA Planning Manager Leelee Thomas. “While we clearly have much work to do, this program and other actions show that we’re moving in the right direction.”
MORE INFO ON THE COUNTY OF MARIN’S RESTRICTIVE COVENANTS PROJECT.