Posted on August 2, 2021

Senate Bill Aims to Create National Database of Restrictive Property Covenants

Joshua Jamerson, Wall Street Journal, July 29, 2021

A new bill backed by a slate of Senate Democrats would allocate competitive grants to colleges and universities to analyze, digitize and map historic housing discrimination records, creating the first national database of its kind.

The focus of the effort is to research covenants attached to housing deeds, which emerged nationwide around the early 20th century, that made it harder for Black people in many cities to own property.

Sen. Tina Smith (D., Minn.), who wrote the bill, is working to get Democratic colleagues and at least some Republicans to back the effort after introducing the Mapping Housing Discrimination Act on Thursday afternoon.

“The impact of that discrimination endures today,” Ms. Smith said in an interview, adding that the point of the grants was to form a national database that can “shape the policies that we need to put in place to address this longstanding and enduring discrimination.”


The bill would allocate $50 million over 10 years to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which would provide grants of varying sizes to virtually any kind of higher-learning institution that committed to join with a local jurisdiction to analyze local property records from 1850 to 1988 for the purpose of identifying restrictive language in and digitize historic deeds and other property records. Institutions could use the grants for an array of purposes, including the procurement or development of digital tools to identify racial covenants in digitized property deeds or other records, according to a draft of the bill text viewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Participants would be required to share their work with HUD, which would compile a national database that would be made publicly available. The bill also provides $7.5 million over 10 years for HUD to administer the grants and maintain the database.

Ms. Smith’s proposal follows a report from The Wall Street Journal this spring on the impact of the covenants in her home state of Minnesota. In the Minneapolis metro area, 77% of white residents own homes, compared with 25% of Black residents—a 52-percentage-point difference, larger than in any other major U.S. city, according to an analysis of census and survey data by a state agency.