A new state law requiring the removal of language prohibiting people of color from buying residences has drawn particular attention to Marin, who is known for her history of racial discrimination in housing.
AB 1466 went into effect July 1 and requires state registrars, real estate brokers, agents and insurance companies to amend property records removing these racial restrictions.
“For me, it’s about doing the right thing,” said Shelly Scott, assessor, clerk and county clerk. “My staff and I are in compliance with this and are ready to go from July 1. We have done a lot of work in this area since 2019.
Discriminatory clauses have been legally unenforceable since the United States Supreme Court case Shelley v. Kraemer in 1948 and illegal under the Fair Housing Act of 1968.
Race covenants have not been removed from official property records, some of which date back more than a century to a time of segregation, racism and redlining, to prevent minorities from living or owning property in certain areas .
Scott said she had signed six to eight racial covenants under AB 1466 over the past week. Documents must be approved by the county council before being registered with redactions.
But this is only part of the racial calculation in housing undertaken by Scott’s office. She said the Registrar’s office has taken a proactive approach to locating and reviewing CC&Rs — covenants, conditions and restrictions — and removing discriminatory language.
On Wednesday, the county unveiled an interactive online database called “Restrictive Covenants Time Progression.”
The project, which began in 2019, features a fast-track map of the county that reflects action taken against illegal covenants.
The database includes maps and charts showing the number of Race Covenants currently cataloged. The numbers soared in 1940 with 337 registrations that year, in the middle of World War II. The numbers dropped in the final years of the war as Liberty Ship construction declined, but climbed to 603 in 1946 after the war and 634 in 1950.
Ninety percent of wedding rings cataloged are between 1940 and 1950. A total of 4,402 have been cataloged so far, according to a city chart.
Scott said the current data is just a “snapshot” of the county’s total of 96,000 plots.
She said she plans to walk every plot in the county by the end of the project.
Mapping shows clusters around jurisdictions and cities, organized by date and location. Thirty-eight percent of alliances are in unincorporated parts of the county. The next highest percentages are San Rafael at 16% and Corte Madera at 11%. Smaller percentages include San Anselmo, Sausalito, Tiburon, Mill Valley, Novato, Ross, Larkspur, Fairfax and Belvedere.
Romeo Arrieta, chief executive of the Marin Association of Realtors, said his office is working with the county on rolling out and implementing the law.
“Marin real estate agents have supported this law and advocated for its passage numerous times throughout 2021,” he said. “Removing restrictive racial language from housing documents is simply the right thing to do to help heal the wounds of the past and prevent it from happening again in the future.”
Members of the public can find out if their property includes a CC&R by reviewing the title report they received when purchasing the property.
Felecia Gaston, nonprofit director and social rights advocate at Marin City, said the timing of the new law aligns with Marin City’s ongoing 80th anniversary celebration this year.
“Part of the celebrations is about housing discrimination and racism over all these years,” she said. “All the research we find shows that when people came to work here in the shipyards, it was very diverse. Non-black families were offered housing loans outside of Marin City. It took all these years to bring this to light.
Marin County absorbed black and minority workers during World War II as workers moved to Marinship yards to help build wartime ships. Redlining, or denying access to specific groups of people in neighborhoods, segregated most black communities after World War II in Marin City.
“It’s very obvious what happened here at Marin City,” Gaston said. “Black people automatically knew they couldn’t buy a house.”
Circumstances marginalized generations of minority youth in Marin City while increasing the generational wealth of white families who gained access to now ultra-affluent communities throughout the county.
Paul Austin and his wife, Tenisha Tate-Austin, both black, sued a San Rafael appraiser in federal court for alleged racial discrimination after a February 2020 appraisal of their home returned $455,000 less than a appraisal conducted in March 2019 The couple argued that the home was valued at a lower rate due to their race and the current and historical racial demographics of the home’s location.
Paul Austin says the trial is ongoing and mediation is expected in the coming months. He said the Race Alliances Act was largely tied to his situation, noting that his grandparents on one side of his family settled in Marin City and on the other in Mill Valley.
“They had to build their house at night, on the weekend, because they didn’t want the neighbors to know that a black family lived there,” Austin said. “Even then, 60 years ago, they didn’t want black people living in Mill Valley.”
He said the cultural conditioning behind the pacts was just as important as the racist institutions they supported.
“The only place they wanted people of color to live was Marin City,” he said. “People of color always pay the price. Even if you owned a house in Marin City, property values haven’t gone up here like other places in Marin. It did not create generational wealth.