ALTA Supports Senate Bill to Research Discriminatory Covenants in Land Records

August 3, 2021

U.S. Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) introduced the Mapping Housing Discrimination Act to research and examine discriminatory covenants in land records to help better understand current disparities in wealth and homeownership.

The legislation would:

  • Create a competitive grant program for educational institutions to conduct primary data analysis of local historic property records from 1850-1988 for the purpose of identifying racial covenants and racially restrictive language.
  • Support efforts by local governments to digitize historic deeds and other property records at the local level.
  • Create a national, publicly available database at the Department of Housing and Urban Development of historic housing discrimination patterns in property records, including local datasets produced by grant recipients.

Sen. Smith is chair of the Senate’s Housing, Transportation, and Community Development Subcommittee. She said this is one of the ways she can work to identify the source of disparities in wealth and homeownership, and work to close those gaps.

“Racially restrictive covenants and other forms of historic housing discrimination played a key role in shaping neighborhoods during the 20th century, and the legacy of these policies is still felt today,” Sen. Smith said. “We know that Black homeownership lags in the Twin Cities, and families of color are still impacted by the undervaluing of homes in certain neighborhoods. I’m inspired by the work being done at the University of Minnesota to map racially restrictive covenants so we can better understand which communities were impacted by these policies in our own backyard. My bill would support other universities in doing the same kind of research so that more communities have a better understanding of past housing discrimination and can address these disparities going forward.”

While federal law has properly made these discriminatory covenants illegal and unenforceable over the years, their existence in property deeds and other official mortgage documents has caused significant pain and harm to countless Americans.

“Historic land records often exist in paper form, making the search for discriminatory covenants onerous,” said Diane Tomb, chief executive officer of ALTA. “Providing funding to research and document discriminatory covenants addresses this challenge and provides a critical first step toward fully understanding the negative impacts of these abhorrent covenants.”

Addressing the existence of discriminatory covenants in land records is a major priority for ALTA. In the past year, ALTA convened a work group of industry experts to examine the scope of the problem, as well as key legislative approaches to remedying discriminatory covenants in land records. The work group is actively collaborating with industry partners and academic experts on recommendations and best practices.

“The title industry is uniquely positioned to be a thoughtful partner in addressing discriminatory covenants and working to end housing discrimination,” Tomb said. “ALTA is strongly opposed to any form of housing discrimination and is committed to proactively working towards solutions that protect the property rights of all homebuyers.”

Sen. Smith’s legislation is cosponsored by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

Contact ALTA at 202-296-3671 or [email protected].