A new law in Illinois allows homeowners to make changes to their housing documents to remove racist provisions that were used to prevent people of certain races and religious groups from buying homes or living in a certain area.
The provisions, known as racially restrictive agreements, were outlawed under the Fair Housing Act in 1968, but they are still buried in an unknown number of property documents throughout the United States – relics of a broader real estate industry effort. , federal housing construction. authorities and individual homeowners to prevent integration.
In many states, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to remove covenants from property records, prompting states like Illinois to pass laws to make the process easier. Starting January 1, homeowners in the state can file a request with their county’s registrar to waive conditions. The cost of one request is limited to 10 US dollars.
Since 2018, at least 13 states have passed laws to make it easier to remove racial testaments from cases. A bill to that effect in New York is under consideration in the Legislature.
One of the first to demand a change in Illinois was Nicole Sullivan, who has been trying to change her document since around 2011, when she bought a house in Lake County, in the northeast corner of the state.
Mrs. Sullivan’s Homeowners’ Association sent her a copy of a deed dated March 1929 to explain why she could not create a fenced area for her dog on the property.
She was intrigued by the document and then dismayed when she found a clause stipulating that the house could never be sold or occupied by “any person or persons of the African or Negro, Japanese, Chinese, Jewish or Jewish race or their descendants.” ”
Ms. Sullivan, white, and her neighbor tried to remove the tongue but kept running into roadblocks. Eventually, they turned to State Representative Daniel Didek, a Buffalo Grove Democrat who, along with State Senator Adrian Johnson, also a Buffalo Grove Democrat, sponsored legislation allowing changes to the Illinois General Assembly. Governor JB Pritzker signed the law into law in July.
Ms Sullivan, 41, said the law change was largely a symbolic victory and that more needs to be done to improve housing equity in her area and in the United States, but she hopes the law will help make her area more diverse. .
“We are stopping this cycle of reusing this language back into our community so new community members interested in building a fence no longer have to read about their ancestors not being allowed to be there,” Ms Sullivan said. .
It is difficult to know how many property deeds in the United States use racial agreements because they are in private agreements. Many cities and counties, including Cook County, have local efforts to find and catalog these records.
A study by Lake Forest College in Lake Forest, Illinois found that by the late 1940s, more than 220 units in Cook County had created or adopted racially restrictive covenants.
“This unit is for Caucasians only,” read the agreement, registered in September 1946. “This restriction does not apply to domestic workers.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, no one in Cook County had applied to change their property record, Sally Daly, deputy public relations clerk for the Cook County Clerk’s Office, said in an email.
Chloe Thurston, an assistant professor of political science at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, said the use of racial conventions expanded following a 1917 Supreme Court decision that prohibited cities from allocating neighborhoods to certain racial groups, but they were not enforced. to private contracts.
Realtors and federal housing authorities then used racially restrictive agreements to prevent integration. In 1927, Nathan William McChesney, a well-known lawyer, wrote a model racial restriction agreement for the Chicago Real Estate Board that was intended only for blacks. The Federal Housing Administration also recommended that racially restrictive covenants be included in insured homes.
In 1948, the Supreme Court made existing racially restrictive agreements unenforceable, but the Shelley v. Kremer decision did not completely stop their use. Twenty years later, the Fair Housing Act made the new agreements illegal.
Professor Thurston, author of On the Frontiers of Homeownership: Credit, Discrimination, and the American State, said it’s worth asking whether the energy to change laws to eliminate these impossible obligations was at the expense of solving more pressing problems. housing stock.
According to Professor Thurston, racially restrictive agreements and other forms of housing discrimination, such as redlining, have reduced the supply of housing for black families and, as a result, their ability to pass on wealth to succeeding generations.
She added that there is a longer legacy of other restrictive processes that “will not be addressed by simply removing language from the document that most people don’t think about or see.”