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New legislation makes it easier to remove racial covenants from property deeds

Roeland Park
Posted at 10:37 PM, May 14, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-14 23:37:15-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo — Property deeds will reveal everything you need to know about who owns a property, but many of those property deeds in Roeland Park, Prairie Village and cities across the nation also tell you who couldn't own a particular property.

Before they became unenforceable after a 1948 U.S. Supreme Court ruling and the Fair Housing Act, racial covenants did not allow people of "Negro blood" and other races and religions to own, occupy or rent certain properties.

The covenants remain in property records.

"The feeling of moving into a new home, signing all kinds of paperwork to move into a new home, and way back in the back the papers you didn't pay attention to, you see the language that says you can't live here," said Haile Sims, a Roeland Park resident.

Sims pulled his deed and the language is not in his paperwork, but he lives near neighborhoods where deeds still contain racial covenants.

He serves on the Roeland Park Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee and he's heard many of the city's conversations about getting rid of the covenants.

Property deed
Copy of a property deed using racially restrictive covenants in the Roeland Park's Buena Vista neighborhood.

"That's what history is," Sims said. "It is important to remember that part of history, but I don't need it written in my deed."

The cost of legal fees could reach up to six figures if a city wanted to fix the records on their own.

Kansas HB 2562, which was signed into law by Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly in April, makes that process easier.

It creates the option to redact discriminatory language from recorded documents, and change them so the redacted documents will become the documents of record.

"There are present realities and past realities and lots of biblical models for why both should be owned and recognized, so even me as a white dude in Prairie Village saying, 'Hey, I think this is wrong.' It's part of the history of our city and part of why we have a massive majority of white," said Morgan Greer, a Prairie Village resident.

Although Greer doesn't have discriminatory language in his deed, he's among residents in Prairie Village who think the new law was long overdue.

"To think striking racial covenants is the end of the conversation would be crazy," he said.

Greer thinks it's just a start, and there's still structural work for the city to consider, including affordable housing and the impact of past racial issues.

"Our country wasn't where it was in 1865 or 1965," he said. "There are walls that have been broken through, but to think we're finished with that is untrue."

The City of Roeland Park states on their website they've identified where discriminatory language still exists.

The city's next step is to redact the discriminatory language and record new plat and covenant documents.