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Covenants of yesterday still haunt families today

In late 2016, Mapping Prejudice approached Hennepin County about entering into a partnership to provide data for identifying restrictive discriminatory covenants connected to property deeds. Mapping Prejudice is a team of geographers, historians, digital humanists and community activists seeking to expose structural racism. The partnership with Mapping Prejudice and the efforts of its volunteer researchers is thought to be the first and largest of its kind in the country.

Discriminatory covenants were prevalent in the first half of the 20th century. They were blatant declarations connected to property deeds that prevented people from certain racial, ethnic and religious groups from buying or occupying homes in certain areas or residential real estate developments.

Taking the deed records provided by Hennepin County, Mapping Prejudice found more than 20,000 properties known to have such covenants in Hennepin during their project.

Long-lasting negative effects

According to Mapping Prejudice, the disparities resulting from these covenants can be seen today. The Twin Cities metropolitan region has the largest racial home ownership gap in the country: 75% of White families own the home they live in compared to 25% of Black families.

Last fall, the board unanimously voted to disavow these practices. This resolution was recorded in the real property records to provide the public greater notice of their existence. Although discriminatory covenants are illegal, unconstitutional and against public policy, it is important to understand and acknowledge the lasting impacts they have had in our community. By the time these acts were abolished, damage was already done.

The data also show that the discriminatory covenants and redlining have impacted the value of homes today. For example, similar homes built in the 1950s — with the same numbers of bedrooms and bathrooms, etc. — have different values today. Homes in neighborhoods with discriminatory covenants are valued at about $100,000 more than similar homes in historically redlined areas. Home ownership is one of the most significant ways families can build and pass on wealth to future generations.

Mapping Prejudice also found that neighborhoods in Minneapolis with discriminatory covenants remain about 80% White, which is 25% higher than neighborhoods without covenants. Making this information available in a way the public can easily understand is an important part of the process to removing barriers to housing.

Righting wrongs

In addition to identifying what properties have these covenants attached, Mapping Prejudice has created an easy-to-search online tool for residents to see if their properties are known to have discriminatory covenants attached to them.

The county’s Real Property Group and Mapping Prejudice are working with a group of city attorneys, referred to as the Just Deeds Project, to aid residents in identifying covenants and filing the paperwork to disavow these covenants in the real property records. These attorneys are providing this service free, while the county is providing complimentary access to the records system for searching the historic and waiving the fees associated with recording the affidavit disavowing the use or discriminatory covenants.


This story reflects Hennepin County disparity reduction priorities in housing and justice.