EDITORIAL: Implement law to end racist provisions in deeds

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Jun. 21—Lawmakers in the Missouri General Assembly passed a bill this session to require the removal of restrictions relating to a person's race, color, religion or national origin from newly recorded deeds; the action is both necessary and overdue.

The bill was approved by the Legislature in May but still awaits Missouri Gov. Mike Parson's signature. The governor should sign it right away.

These provisions in deeds can no longer be used against people after a Supreme Court ruling — in a case out of St. Louis — blocked enforcement of discriminatory covenants nationwide in 1948. Missouri passed a law in 1993 to bring state rules in line with the federal decision.

But the hateful language of these provisions remains enshrined in many deeds in our state and across the nation. Racially restrictive covenants are a relic of systemic racial discrimination that prohibited the sale of property to anyone who wasn't white. Along with the red lining — the practice of denying or refusing to guarantee loans in minority neighborhoods — restrictive covenants shaped a system that limited property ownership by Black people and other people of color. The practices shaped a system that blocked most Blacks from homeownership and limited the value of the property that was available to them.

The effect of the restrictive covenants and other exclusionary real estate practices effectively locked Black people out of the primary way Americans accumulate and pass on generational wealth to their families.

The item of greatest value for most Americans is their home. It is the primary way that we accumulate wealth and pass what we have gained to the next generation. For example, the Federal Reserve reports that the median net worth for homeowners in 2019 was $255,000, compared with $6,300 for renters. That means homeowners on average have more than 40 times greater wealth compared with those without property in their name.

Until now, there has been no simple, clear path to remove the race-based provisions from the deeds in Missouri.

Under the new legislation, those who prepare or submit a deed for recording — usually a title company — would cut out the offending language before submitting it to the recorder of deeds. If the language is not removed, the recorder of deeds office can refuse to accept the deed and send it back for changes. The process would clean up deeds as they are part of real estate transactions, ridding our state over time of this painful, shameful relic of institutional racism.

It is about time.

We urge Parson to quickly sign the measure into law.