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Black Lives Matter: A Glimpse Into Local Real Estate History

Black Lives Matter.

Last week, I vowed to not stay silent. I vowed to further the conversation and to speak out against racism in our country.

We have an exceptionally long way to go in this fight thanks to a deep-rooted, racist real estate history as you’ll see in this post.

This blog is my voice to many, and real estate is my passion. It is my hope that through this medium, I can add how real estate here in Southern California has contributed to systemic racism that has brought about decades of inequality that resonate through today.

Racist Title Reports

Most clients do not “nerd out” on title reports like me. It is very important to understand your title report and the insurance you are getting on any property purchase.

Early in my career and even through today, I am one of those agents that clicks on title report hyperlinks and reads over some of the recorded documents to protect my clients.

By law, preliminary title reports always state that any covenants, restrictions, or conditions that discriminate based on race, sex, etc. are illegal and not enforceable.

That is what is right, and thankfully it is the law.

But, it was not always that way.

In my 20s, I was shocked by the open and notorious racism while reading through title reports.

In almost every full chain of title that I read, there was discriminatory language recorded that forbid any property owner from selling the respective property to people of color.

I am not just talking a few title reports…it was a majority of them.

Racially restrictive covenants were common practice throughout Los Angeles and the South Bay. This is just one small slice of systemic racism, but a MASSIVE issue when it comes to one of our fundamental rights to housing. These restrictions kept black people from owning real estate.

With so many believers today and in the past considering a home and real estate as the cornerstone of wealth, people of color not having access to buying a home or obtaining financing is a very big deal. It can have negative impacts for generations.

And, if one group of people cannot purchase real property for decades, while others can, imagine the gap in wealth that creates.

Charlotte Bass, the editor, publisher, and civil rights activist, of the California Eagle in Los Angeles penned: “It is staggering to realize[d] that 95 [percent] of this great sprawling city is restricted against occupancy by Negroes…”

I can see that very clearly on title reports every day in my work as a real estate broker.

It is an ugly part of our history that obviously still contributes to inequities today.

My Plan for this Post

I am not a historian.

I am not black. (I am a white male.)

I need to learn, read, and listen more than talk and write.

That said, I want to do the work and I have begun reading.

Below is my deeper dive into systemic racism within real estate, along with some articles you should consider reading if you are not privy to the history of discrimination in real estate here in Los Angeles.

This research is just scratching the surface, but it is a start.

Hopefully, my initial studies will continue the conversations around Black Lives Matter and help others on their journey to learn more as well.

Timeline in SoCal + Housing Rights

For myself personally, I wanted to know why I saw so many restrictive covenants existing on title reports. I also wanted to know when these covenants were done and enforced and when they became illegal.

There is SO much history to dive into. This timeline I created below helped me see how events transpired, along with helpful articles that give some context…

  • 1910 – 36% of Black Angelenos owned their own homes
    • W.E.B. Du Bois praised life in Southern California for black residents, relative to other areas throughout the country.
  • 1917 – Buchanan v. Warley
    • The U.S. Supreme Court ruled racially restrictive zoning violated the 14th Amendment.
    • This KCET piece shows that as the Supreme Court walked back restrictive zoning, white residents used deed restrictions and real estate license laws to limit access to housing for people of color.
  • 1933 – Anna and Henry Laws bought two lots in the rural area of Watts (story below via Curbed L.A.)
  • 1944 – The Laws built their dream home on the land after over a decade of saving
    • Due to racially restrictive covenants recorded on the property and brought up by angered white residents, the Laws had to go to Court to defend the right to ownership of their home.
    • A Judge ruled against the Laws and ordered them out of the home. The Laws later went to jail for refusing to leave.
    • This article by Curbed L.A. talks about the Laws and their struggle with racially restrictive covenants on their land. It talks about the heroic Charlotte Bass, of the California Eagle, fighting for the Laws family and other property owners throughout L.A.
    • Bass was the first black person to serve on the L.A. County jury in the 40s (think about that).

*I read this piece on Bass and the Laws family last year. The Laws family story was infuriating to me. But, I only discussed it with a few people. And, that is the issue. We should read and SPEAK UP about these stories and acknowledge the damage this part of our history has done, and still continues to do today to people of color.

  • 1948 – Shelley v. Kraemer
    • The U.S. Supreme Court struck down racially restrictive housing covenants.
    • The Laws and other families in L.A. could move back into their homes, and across the nation.
    • Another great piece from Curbed L.A. on the West Adams neighborhood in L.A. and the movement to support this supreme court case, and eventually win.
  • 1950s – First “unrestrictive” housing developments, but discrimination still abundant.
    • “White flight” and freeways were built throughout L.A. to make it easier for white families to commute to the suburbs.
  • 1959 – Unruh Civil Rights Act and the 1959 Fair Employment Practices Act
    • Bans discrimination based on color, among others, to all businesses in California via Unruh, and via Fair Employment Act granting fair hiring practices to all.
  • 1963 – Rumford Fair Housing Act
    • Fair protection to renters and buyers to help end racial discrimination by lenders, brokers, property owners, landlords, etc. Led by William Byron Rumford, the first African American to serve on CA legislature.
    • This is an amazing piece from KCET on redling in L.A. by the FHA, with maps to prove it.
  • 1963 – South Bay protests in a white-only Torrance neighborhood (Southwood) in violation of Unruh.
    • If you want a South Bay history story on these real estate discrimination topics, check out this story and similar protests to what we are seeing today, but in regard to fair housing in an all-white Torrance neighborhood back in 1963. Incredible.
  • 1964 – Proposition 14 to revise the Rumford Fair Housing Act
    • Proposition aimed to amend the act’s fair housing protections in favor of landowners “property rights.”
    • Endorsed by the L.A. Times and passes with over 65% of the vote. Click here for the article.

*If repealing fair housing with 65% voter approval is not systemic/structural racism, then I do not know what is.

  • 1966 – Prop 14 is ruled unconstitutional by the California Supreme Court.
  • 1967 – Reitman v. Mulkey
    • The U.S. Supreme Court confirmed the decision of the California court to repeal Prop 14, making it illegal for any state to allow for invidious discrimination.
  • 1968 – Civil Rights Act / Fair Housing Act of 1968
    • This prohibited discrimination concerning the sale, rental and financing of housing based on race, etc.

Some Brief Reflection

As you can see, all of the above history occurred only 100 years ago or less…

I want to recap a few of the historic events from above to really opened my eyes. These stories on our history should inspire even more conversations with others to spread awareness on this important part of real estate injustice in southern California.

  • The government writing laws making property ownership nearly impossible to people of color through access to credit (or lack thereof), discriminatory zoning, and deed restrictions.

  • Further, the fight, black individuals, like the Laws family, had to endure to keep their land that they purchased and the home they built themselves after a decade of saving. Battling for their rights, being thrown in jail, and being discriminated against long after (White Flight).

  • South Bay developers clearly violating the Unruh Civil Rights Act out in the open just 60 years ago, while the Nazis and KKK members were out to refute the protesters.

In 1966, systemic racism (whether conscious or unconscious) was still alive and well with 65% of California voters approving Proposition 14 to repeal fair housing in exchange for “property rights.”

I am a Millennial, and my parents were in grade school at the time of that vote. That is so very recent, and as much as I hope things are different, it is clear they are not.

It is hard to imagine that with just one generation of separation from this large majority vote on Proposition 14 that unconscious (and conscious) bias/teaching still permeates today.

The damage these practices have done to people of color, economically and socially, is far reaching with huge setbacks in wealth and inequality compared to white people. Back then, and now.

Please read these articles, study the timeline and how it relates, and continue to research more. This information is just on housing locally.

And, even with progress on new laws, much of them remained unenforced and are still difficult to prove today. Again, we still have a very long road ahead in this fight.

Next Black Lives Matter Post

As I stated in the beginning of this post, this is just the start to my research and it is not nearly enough. Regardless, I want to share it with my readers because it is extremely important and something that should be talked about.

In future posts, I plan to listen and share stories/perspectives from black clients, black realtors, and black tenants that I have had the pleasure to work with.

If you have any stories, thoughts, educational resources, or more on the topic of local real estate discrimination or how the real estate industry has affected people of color, please reach out to me. I want to use this platform to spread awareness and I am committed to listening, learning and sharing.

We cannot stay silent on these matters. And I will keep reading, listening and sharing.

DRE: 01779425