Senate committee approves bill on changing race-based covenants

By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports

The Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee heard testimony Wednesday on a bill that would allow homeowners to change discriminatory outdated language in their deeds.

The Committee voted unanimously to move it forward. 

Senate Bill 1240, pitched by Sen. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, would allow homeowners to update racist covenants on homes. 

The bill’s statement of purpose says “During the twentieth century, both redlining and racial covenants were widely used tools that created housing disparities based on race. Developers and private landowners embedded racial covenants in property deeds, prohibiting all non-whites from owning, renting, or occupying property.” 

Wintrow argued many people’s homes may have these covenants without their knowledge. 

The outdated covenants are a violation of the Fair Housing Act and the Civil Rights Act, making them void. But under current law, Idahoans have no way to remove the covenant. 

With this bill, “We are saying ‘let’s correct the record once and for all,’” Wintrow said.

The bill would also prohibit future homes from having discriminatory convenants that prohibit people from owning or occupying a property based on race, ethnicity, national origin or color. It would waive the recording fees for homeowners that wanted to change their covenant to remove the language. County clerks would be able to assist homeowners who want to change it.

McKay Cunningham, of the College of Idaho, spoke at the hearing at Wintrow’s request. Cunningham showed the committee a Warm Springs division in Ada County that has more than 150 properties with racial covenants. Another example offered was on Vista Avenue. In Ada County alone, Cunningham said he’d found 50 subdivisions with racial covenants, and he anticipated hundreds more properties have them as well.

The bill now heads to the full Senate. 

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