LA County begins long process to redact racist language in housing agreements

Anabel Munoz Image
Friday, February 9, 2024
LA County begins to redact racist language in housing agreements
Until it was outlawed, discriminatory and racist language was in housing agreements and records when trying to buy a home in Los Angeles County.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Buying a home in much of Los Angeles County came along with restrictions on who could buy or live in a home based on race. That is, until it was outlawed. But the discriminatory and racist language is still in housing records and agreements that are passed on to new buyers.

Now, L.A. County is beginning a long process of finding and redacting this racist language from the housing records it keeps.

"We have over 130 million property records that we maintain in perpetuity," said Dean Logan, Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk of Los Angeles County. "That 130 million documents actually equates to 460 million pages of text."

A new state law requires counties create a plan to identify and redact the language from "restrictive covenants." Also known as CCR's, these are private contracts between a seller and buyer that can include many restrictions. Until it was outlawed, one restriction was the race of the owners or tenants.

"The racial restrictions in these restrictive covenants were sandwiched between things that seemed very innocuous," said Laura Redford, visiting assistant professor at Brigham Young University who conducted doctoral research on racially restrictive covenants in L.A. County.

Her research underscores the way these agreements used class and race to segregate communities. Some agreements required a buyer spend a minimum amount on building a home, for example. Other restrictions where on the use of the property. For example, prohibiting a store or distillery.

Redford found advertisements that touted these restrictions. For example one advertisement for a new housing development in Culver City offered presents to children who brought adults to the see the property.

An advertisement for a new housing development in Culver City offered presents to children who brought adults to the see the property.

"Lots and presents restricted to Caucasian race," reads the ad.

By 1939 "nearly half- 47% - of all Los Angeles County residential neighborhoods had restrictive covenants that forbade certain racial groups from those communities," cites Redford in her article in the The Journal of Planning History.

A 1948 U.S. Supreme Court ruling declared the racial restrictions were unlawful. However, Deepika Sharma, housing law expert and USC Gould School of Law professor stresses this type of discrimination continued until the Fair Housing Act of 1968, and that its effects are felt today.

"That impact remains today. L.A. remains as segregated as it was in the 1960s," said Sharma, adding that where you live dictates much of your life. "It's more than your generational wealth, it's your access to environmental safety, it's your access to property taxes, which are really big part of our the education system, and your upward mobility, your access to fresh food, and your access to jobs, to economic resources.

Logan said the redaction will be a roughly 10-year project funded by a new $2 dollar document recording fee. They are starting with digital records.

"But have 40 million records that are maintained still, either on microfilm or in their original paper form," said Logan.

They are maintaining the original records.

"While this is a program that is being implemented throughout the state, in a variety of different ways, I think for Los Angeles County, this aligns with the policies and direction of our Board of Supervisors," added Logan.

Sharma said the effort is an important symbolic move and should be followed by conversations to address ongoing housing inequities and the housing crisis, pointing out for example, 70% of Los Angeles County remains zoned for single family housing.

"We need to look at social housing models and other models of density to be more inclusive, because in many ways, if we aren't, we're just exactly mirroring that," she said. "Mirroring what we're trying to eradicate."