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Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.


The phrase "there goes the neighborhood" has historically been a sort of racial slur; it meant that a Black person or someone else of a different race or religion was moving in. To prevent that from happening in communities that wanted to remain white only, it was written into legal documents that property owners could not sell or rent to nonwhite people.

Mounds View Mayor Zach Lindstrom learned that, under such pernicious covenants, his family would have been barred from living in many homes in the community he now leads.

And that's partly why Lindstrom, whose wife is of Korean and Filipino descent, and others wisely pushed for their suburb of 12,000 to become the first Minnesota city to discharge racist language in property titles before homes are sold. The city is now poised to take action that will rightly step up the denouncement of "whites only" language that remains embedded in too many property deeds.

The restrictions became unenforceable by law several decades ago, so the efforts to counter the language are largely symbolic. Still, that symbolism is important in broader efforts to disavow blatantly racist language in legal documents. And knowing where racial restrictions were once in place helps inform efforts against some of today's current discriminatory housing practices.

In Minnesota and across the nation, such covenants were part of property titles before the 1950s and '60s, when some state and federal fair-housing laws went into effect. And in 2019, Minnesota lawmakers passed a law that allows property owners to formally reject the terms of such covenants by filling out a form that would then become part of the property's abstract. However, many deeds with covenants don't have the additional affidavits that officially disavow the discriminatory language.

Kirsten Delegard, director of Mapping Prejudice, told the Star Tribune that while covenants aren't enforceable, they've left racial and economic consequences: "Neighborhoods once gated with covenants are still the whitest areas in the Twin Cities," Delegard said. And homes with covenants in Minneapolis are worth on average 15% more than those without — circumstances that contribute to the Twin Cities having one of the largest racial homeownership gaps in the country.

According to Mapping Prejudice research, the first such covenant found in Minneapolis was issued in 1910; it declared that the property in question "shall not at any time be conveyed, mortgaged or leased to any person or persons of Chinese, Japanese, Moorish, Turkish, Negro, Mongolian or African blood or descent."

The project notes that there are more than 500 racially restrictive covenants on Mounds View properties; many specifically bar those "other than of the Caucasian race," from owning or occupying the property.

As this Editorial Board has previously stated, racially restrictive housing covenants are an ugly reminder of a time in America when there were legal provisions to keep people of difference races and faiths from buying or even living in various neighborhoods. But now there are ways to help property owners remove that language from their deeds. The Just Deeds group, for example, is an organization that can help property owners for little or no cost to them.

"The purpose of our coalition is to provide information about what steps can be taken to discharge covenants," Just Deeds co-founder Maria Cisneros told an editorial writer. She added that it is up to individual communities as to how they can raise awareness and encourage broader conversations and actions against discrimination.

As Mayor Lindstrom told the Star Tribune, he was relieved that his community supported a requirement to remove the racist language from deeds.

"It isn't something that I want to have to explain to my kids," he said.