As we have all come to better understand in recent years, discriminatory and racist policies that prevented people of color from purchasing homes have been illegal in the United States since 1964, but 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The County of Marin has been taking steps to identify and rectify historical documents and records that reflect its shameful past, with county officials giving the Mill Valley City Council a presentation on the County of Marin’s Restrictive Covenant Project in November 2021.
In a report to the Board of Supervisors this week, Marin County Assessor-Recorder-County Clerk Shelly Scott said her staff has identified and modified illegal restrictive covenants affecting 55 historic subdivisions that contain more than 800 parcels,” and the county is looking to “identify, catalog and redact the unlawful, discriminatory covenants in their property records,” according to the Marin Independent Journal.
“It is going to be years and years before we complete all 96,000 parcels in the county,” Scott told the supervisors.
According to the IJ, the recorder’s office is focusing on about 8,500 homes built in Marin between 1925 and 1948, which is believed to be the period when most covenants were created. Their use became much more common after the U.S. Supreme Court declared them legal and binding in 1926 in Corrigan v. Buckley. The Supreme Court reversed the decision in 1948 with its ruling in Shelley v. Kraemer, finding that restrictive covenants violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 outlawed discrimination in real estate based on race, color, religion, national origin and gender.
The law that Marin is implementing, AB 1466, was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in September 2021, about two months after the county launched its own program allowing residents to voluntarily disavow racially restrictive covenants in the deeds of their homes. Since the program’s launch, Scott’s office has modified 43 covenants submitted by Marin residents or their homeowner associations.
Damian Morgan of Corte Madera said the economic legacy of restrictive covenants lives on for the Black community. “This is not simply history,” Morgan said. “It is today’s world.”