SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County Recorder Rashelle Hobbs strolled through her office’s archives, stopping to point out a plat filed by Brigham Young – a big “Y” looping down toward the bottom of the document.
Elsewhere in the archives, there’s uglier history – property deeds that limit homeownership to whites. The restrictions read like this one for a home located in what’s now Millcreek:
“No race or nationality other than the Caucasian race shall own or occupy any building or any of said land, except that this covenant shall not prevent occupancy by domestic servants of a different race or nationality employed by the owner or tenant.”
Therese Grijalva found such a paragraph on the deed to her home in Ogden’s East Bench neighborhood after her co-worker told her the words were probably there.
“I mean, really horrifying to think that that ever existed,” Grijalva said.
Last year, Grijalva used a new process established by the Utah Legislature to amend her housing covenants, rescinding the discriminatory restrictions by filing a new document with the Weber County recorder.
Hobbs, in Salt Lake County, is trying to promote the program.
“It does take some research,” Hobbs said. “You’re going to want a free copy of your property record to see if there’s discriminatory language in it. And then you’re going to have the template available on our website and a notarized statement that you can mail in or bring in in person.”
The research and recording the new document is free. The services are available at county recorder offices across the state.
Racist restrictions were written for homes across the country in the first half of the 20th century. Cities from Washington, D.C., to Seattle have started historical mapping projects to document where such covenants were.
The covenants haven’t been enforceable in a lifetime. A 1948 U.S. Supreme Court ruling struck down such covenants. Congress did away with the racist policies, too, in the Civil Rights Act of 1968.
Besides excluding people of color from neighborhoods, the covenants kept them from the building of wealth that can come from homeownership, said Jenny Gnagey, an adjunct professor of economics at Weber State University who has been researching covenants in Weber County. She’s been finding them on homes built between 1939 and 1947.
“Maybe about one-third to one-half of developments (in Weber County) during that time has this type of covenant,” Gnagey said.
Besides bigotry, homeowners were motivated by a concern that people of color moving in would lower home prices.
“There is not a lot of evidence to support that that is actually what would happen to property values,” Gnagey said, “but that was a very prevalent conception.”
Olivia Jaramillo is the director of public outreach at Equality Utah, and a U.S. Air Force veteran born in Mexico. She said it’s important to keep the racial covenants in the archives, but to amend them in practice. She said a new homeowner might wonder who in the neighborhood signed onto the original restrictions.
“Having those covenants removed makes a big difference as to how comfortable a homeowner feels,” Jaramillo said, “especially somebody who may be an immigrant or somebody who is a second- or third-generation American that feel themselves a wholly American”
“It just shows that we truly are making progress in our state,” she added.
The original deeds will still exist unaltered, but a new document will be recorded saying racist covenants no longer apply. That’s a big point to homeowners like Grijalva.
“I think it is a symbolic gesture to say that systemic racism still exists and we are going to do what we need to do to erase it or start to erase it,” she said.