Latino Couple Looking To Buy A Home Found A Clause That Said They Needed To Be “Wholly Of The White Caucasian Race”
Amid recent conversations about the benefits of affinity housing, the topic of housing discrimination remains relevant as ever. The Federal Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibits discrimination against tenants based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, and family status—and while this legislation aims to protect people all over the country, it doesn’t keep discrimination completely at bay. For a Latinx couple seeking to buy a home in Stockton, California, this reality became uncomfortably clear when they saw their Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, & Restrictions (CC&R), a document that outlines the necessary requirements to inhabit a property.
The CC&R for Yolanda Romero and Esai Manzo’s new home claimed that “no persons other than those wholly of the white Caucasian race shall use, occupy or reside upon any part of or within any building located on the above described real property, except servants or domestics of another race employed by or domiciled with a white Caucasian owner or tenant.” Additionally, according to the document, no person who was not “wholly of the white Caucasian” race could purchase the house. So, naturally, the couple second-guessed whether they should move forward with the contract—not because they don’t identify as “Caucasian,” but because they were concerned that their neighbors willingly signed documents with comparable clauses.
“It made us second guess our offer,” said Romero. “We were concerned that people in the neighborhood might have signed documents with similar statements.”
Before signing the document, the couple consulted their agent to determine whether this stipulation was actually legal. It turns out that the clause dated back to 1947, and racially restrictive housing covenants were outlawed in 1948 as a result of that year’s Shelley vs. Kraemer Supreme Court case. “People worry that it’s still enforceable, and even though it’s not, covenants like these hold symbolic meaning,” Dean of the Cornell University Law School, Eduardo Peñalver, told NBC News. “They can indicate whether someone feels like they’re welcome in a community and serve as a reminder of how pervasive housing discrimination was.”
And according to Peñalver, the Fair Housing Act technically outlaws covenants like the one the couple encountered in their CC&R. So why hadn’t this racially restrictive language been omitted from the document long before Romero and Manzo came into the picture?
“We’ve inherited a segregated residential landscape that’s the result of explicit racial discrimination,” Peñalver said. “Though racial discrimination in housing has been outlawed, it manifests itself in more subtle forms and perpetuates the wealth gap and economic inequality.”
A 2012 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development study revealed that Latinx folks seeking to rent learned about 13 percent fewer homes than equally qualified whites; black people learned about 11 percent fewer homes than equally qualified whites; and Asians learned about 10 percent fewer homes than equally qualified whites. When purchasing property, there was no distinguishable difference between Latinx and white buyers, though this was not the case for black and Asian populations, who were shown nearly 18 percent fewer properties than potential white buyers. And the Latinx home ownership numbers have grown immensely in the past several years.
The 2017 State of Hispanic Ownership report confirms that more than 7 million people of Hispanic/Latinx descent owned houses that year—a number 44 times greater than 2016’s metric.
credit: Getty Images
The report cites expansion into areas with high Latinx populations as a source of this extreme growth, though it also highlights certain challenges to Latinx home ownership, from lack of affordable housing to “extreme uncertainty over immigration.” 51% percent of Hispanics believe the economy is on the wrong track, and 56% think it would be difficult to get a home mortgage today, but 88% indicate that they are more likely to own a home in the future than to rent—all of which are statistics that support further growth in the realm of Latinx home ownership.
Yet the issue of subversive housing discrimination remains. Many states use CC&Rs, which are officially recorded and filed with the state, and these documents often include outdated and questionable language. Because these covenants are part of the property records, it can be legally challenging to eliminate them entirely—but Peñalver encourages prospective buyers to file a statement with a county recorder or homeowners association (HOA) if they encounter similar clauses in their paperwork. However, this can prove unnecessarily difficult; in the case of Romero and Manzo’s property, the home does not belong to an HOA, so they would have to obtain “unanimous consent of homeowners in the community signing off on a new set of CC&Rs omitting the offensive language.” Even then, the “wholly of the white Caucasian race” clauses would remain in their property records, though the language would be removed from the revised CC&R document.
In the end, the couple proceeded with the purchase of this property, adding to the ever-growing numbers of Latinx homeowners across the U.S. Yet they remain a bit shocked by the whole process, and remind new homebuyers to always read the fine print.