Land Covenants: Where can I live?


Supporters of the Seattle Open Housing Referendum march downtown on March 7, 1964. The ballot measure proposed making housing discrimination illegal.

For many, it appears that the economic boom in Seattle is changing the cultural landscapes of the Emerald city yet again…

As reported by the Seattle Times in late May, Seattle’s vanishing black community has reached alarming heights and these are but some of the affects of gentrification. Oddly enough, this area was once seen as unappealing, so much so that there was a time in Seattle’s history that they restricted people like Pastor Patrinell Wright into zoned areas like the Central District under the guise of Redlining (I wrote and researched this extensively during my undergraduate studies at the University of Washington). However, in recent years the new light rail station was constructed; which connects commuters all the way to the airport and on into downtown Seattle. Followed by renovated grocery stores (Safeway, I’m looking at you), in addition to Central Park styled lights having been installed along newly paved walkways, new cafés have and are continuously popping up left & right and so on. With that said, it appears the tides have changed in this little part of the 206, much like they have in the Carolina’s for the Gullah/Geechee Nation and how could we forget the despicable ways that led to Native Americans ending up on Tribal reservation(s). As I see it, the web we weave is quite destructive indeed.

“The CD, Seattle’s most storied African-American district, one anchored by black churches like Mount Zion Baptist and First African Methodist Episcopal and one that witnessed the rise of Quincy Jones, the emergence of a prominent black middle class, the formation of the city’s Black Panther movement and the birth of local hip-hop, is getting less black by the year.

The district, which spans roughly from the back side of Capitol Hill toward Lake Washington and from East Madison Street down toward the Interstate 90 Lid, was more than 70 percent black in the 1960s and early ’70s when Wright moved in.


Furthermore, 23 landlords face charges of discriminating against potential renters. In relation to this, I once participated in a similar program for the City of Tacoma; which was sponsored by the Tacoma Housing Authority and sadly, I too witnessed various forms of discriminatory practices when conducting my field work for that agency.

“The Seattle Office for Civil Rights has filed discrimination charges against 23 landlords after a series of sting operations aimed at rooting out bias against renters.

The office paid “testers” posing as prospective renters to check for illegal discrimination based on family status, disability and use of Section 8 rent vouchers.”


Now add to these mercurial societal constructs the rising cost of housing in the King County area and one can dare ask, where can I live?

Having said that, lets delve into a few of those societal constructs that I touched on moments ago…

Restrictive Covenants are deed restrictions that apply to a group of homes or lots in a specific development or ‘subdivision.’ They are normally drafted and put in place by the original developer, and are different for every area of homes.

Restrictions give a development a more standard appearance because they control some of the activities that take place within its boundaries. Covenants nearly always stipulate the minimum size residence allowed, how many homes may be built on one lot, and what type of construction the homes must (or must not) be. They may include numerous other restrictions, this is the area that I chose to focus my research on and in this instance I dug deeper into the history of restrictive covenants involving racial discrimination in Seattle. It is suggested that you study covenants carefully before making an offer to purchase property. Also known as and sometimes referred to as “deed restrictions.”[1] Restrictive covenants are deed restrictions, but deed restrictions are not necessarily in the form of restrictive covenants. Restrictive covenants came into American law from ancient traditions. They do not entirely eliminate threats from outside powers, especially the arbitrary exercise of the power of government. But they give to the ordinary private landowner the powers that kings and queens once had.

[1] A restrictive covenant is a legal obligation imposed in a deed by the seller upon the buyer of real estate to do or not to do something. Such restrictions frequently “run with the land” and are enforceable on subsequent buyers of the property. Examples might be to maintain a property in a reasonable state of repair, to preserve a sight-line for a neighboring property, not to run a business from a residence, or not to build on certain parts of the property.

Later in our history many things changed the landscape of how our country was transformed and to whom would receive the pleasures of this transformation.  Some thought it was wise to point out the harm to blacks and the potential danger to whites traceable to racial ghettos, and to hope that society’s sense of justice as well as its concerns for self-interest would lead to policies that would open housing markets that had remained closed to blacks despite a host of anti-discrimination laws.  But segregated housing serves several interests.  Housing is not only shelter, it represents status, and the general view is that nonwhites residing in a neighborhood will lower its status and gravely affecting the value of the property in the area.  (Ironically many people still feel this way; this was mentioned many times in the reality television series Black/White, which aired on Fox this past winter.)  To the extent that such views limit the housing opportunities for minorities, the cost of available housing is artificially inflated in some cases to three times the appropriate appraisal value of the home or land.  Landlords and realtors can and do profit by exploiting the preference of whites to live in all or mostly all white neighborhoods and by exploiting the inability of most blacks to seek housing where ever it is available because of economic limitations, racial exclusions, and hostility.  Also, fair housing laws, by relying for enforcement on the filing of actions by victims of housing discrimination, serve to further insulate landlords, realtors and banking institutions from punishment for discrimination.  Mostly these covenants were enforced and further strengthened the racial divide even amongst many neighborhoods in Seattle.[2]

  • [2] November 1927 (Capitol Hill) – The parties… agree each with the others that no part of the lands owned by them shall ever be used or occupied by or sold, conveyed, leased, rented or given to Negroes or any person of Negro blood.
  • April 1928 (Broadmoor) – No part of said property hereby conveyed shall ever be used or occupied by any Hebrew or by any person of the Ethioipian, Malay or any Asiatic race…
  • February 7, 1947 (Queen Anne Park, Laguna Vista, Rayville, Carleton Park) – No person or persons of Asiatic, African or Negro blood, lineage or extraction shall be permitted to occupy a portion of said property, or any building thereon, except domestic servant or servants may be actually and in good faith employed by white occupants of said premises.
  • October 31, 1947 (Laurelhurst, Victory Heights, Green Lake Circle) – No person of other than the Caucasian race shall use or occupy any building or lot except as servants domesticated with any owner or tenant.
  • Article 34 of Code of Ethics for realtors in Seattle stated: A Realtor should never be instrumental in introducing into a neighborhood a character of property or occupancy, members of any race or nationality, or any individual whose presence will clearly be detrimental to property values in that neighborhood.

Similar restrictions were imposed on whites with respect to blocks in which the greater number of houses were occupied by blacks.  The courts found that the Fourteenth Amendment enacted for such purposes “operate to qualify and entitle a colored man to acquire property without state legislation discriminating against him solely because of color”.  The asserted purpose of the ordinance was to maintain public peace and keep down racial disorders.  The courts acknowledged that both were worthwhile and appropriate goals, but that they could not be achieved through the violation of constitutional rights.  “On March 10, 1964, the Open Housing Referendum, designed to make housing discrimination a misdemeanor, was on the Seattle ballot and 68% opposed it.” [3]
These precedents did little more than bar the states from giving de jure[4] status to segregated housing patterns rigidly maintained on de facto basis throughout most of the country including the northwest.  As a part of this “societal conspiracy”, many deeds for private housing contained provisions restricting the sale or conveyance to whites only.  In the 1940s, civil rights groups launched a concerted legal attack on these restrictive covenants.  Resulting in Shelley v. Kraemer, a tremendous victory that, by happenstance was never translated into terms that would significantly ease housing discrimination, which continued to narrow substantially the housing opportunities available to blacks.[5]
Urban renewal has eliminated pockets of dilapidated housing and blight in core cities and suburbs, reaped windfall profits for real estate investors, and paved the way for new public monuments.  But urban renewal has hurt and scattered those who are poor and nonwhite, while subsidizing the right of the more affluent to replace them, as the “highest and best use of the land.”  Except in private, the federal government refuses to admit this fact: slum clearance has failed to provide decent housing for slum-dwellers. Urban renewal and public housing programs have intensified segregation of blacks in inner city ghettos.[6]
Fair housing litigation has relied on Brown v. Board of Education, with the presumption that desegregation (what Brown required) will result in quality housing.  Federal and local agencies have traditionally taken the path of least resistance in meeting public housing needs: first, authorizing segregated housing when this was legally permissible; and then, after Brown and civil rights laws mandated desegregation, failing to enforce the letter and spirit of their own nondiscriminatory regulations whenever opposition to integrated housing appeared as it generally did.

[3] Richard Heyza, The Seattle Times (Archives,1964)

[4] De jure is also translated as “by law” and de facto is also translated as “in fact”. They are also often used when discussing racial segregation. A practice may exist de facto, where the people obey a contract as though there were a law although there is none.

[5] Supreme Court ruled in Shelley v. Kramer (1948) that federal and state courts could not enforce restrictive covenants which barred persons from owning or occupying property, because of their race.

[6] Arnold Schuchter, White Power/Black Freedom 36-37 (1968).

Mortgage Discrimination

Discrimination in housing, with its vices of segregated housing patterns and inadequate and overpriced housing for minorities, continues to be one of those areas where the law is unable or unwilling to keep up with conditions in the real world.  Despite the multiple federal and state statues designed to deal with housing discrimination more blacks and Hispanics have reported unlawful discrimination when trying to purchase a home or land than whites.  Many advocate that one of the barriers perpetuating both the residential segregation of and inadequate housing provided for minorities, is discrimination in mortgage lending.  “Until, 1949, FHA official policy was to refuse to insure any unsegregated housing.  It was not until…1962 that the agency required nondiscrimination pledges from loan applicants.”[7]  An authoritative report released by the Federal Reserve Board in 1991 revealed a wide gap between mortgage denial rates for whites and those for minorities.[8] While for many years racial discrimination in mortgage lending was conceptualized as a problem of geographic “redlining” the new study showed that race is more significant than wealth in determining the likelihood of loan approval.
The denial of mortgages by banks to minority borrowers has extremely pernicious effects.  Funds to buy houses, and to maintain them once bought, are difficult to come by.  Many minority applicants go to private lenders, who borrow from the same banks that denied the minority applicants mortgages or loans, and who in turn charge the applicants astronomical interest rates. Which in turn affects the borrower if they happen to fall behind in their repayments, these secondary lenders may foreclose on their loan.[9]

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[7] Report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (Kerner Communication Report) 474 (1968).

[8] The study examined 5.3 million mortgage applications made to 9,300 banks and other lenders in 1990.  The report found that nationwide, 33.9% of black applicants and 21.4% of Hispanic applicants were denied home mortgages, compared with 14.4% of whites.  Among the highest-income applicant group,
the denial rate nationally for blacks was 21.4%.

[9] Matt Jalbert;


Now that you have had time to reflect you might conclude that, “”This was a deliberate attempt to get us out of here because the area is so central and convenient to downtown,” Wright says, echoing a sentiment held by many who fear that blacks are being pushed away to make the district more desirable for whites with higher incomes.””….”Today, less than one-fifth of the population is black, with whites moving in in such huge numbers that in the space of a couple of decades, they’ve become the majority for the first time since the Eisenhower Administration, when there was a sizable Jewish presence in the area.”. (Pacific NW magazine writer)

BUT ANYWAY,  as Tarica June spits it, couple this with the fact that in “Seattle African Americans make 58 cents for each dollar earned by White counterparts“, as according to a recent report – exactly how is one even capable of obtaining and maintaining a home, in this market.

So, shall I ask yet again given all of the information that has been presented before you…where can I live?


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