Racial covenants bill just the beginning

State Rep. Julie Fahey's discovery that the deed to her family's home includes racist exclusions was an ugly reminder of a shameful part of Oregon's past. These whites-only covenants are not that unusual on older properties. Language barring people who are Jewish, black or of Asian descent from owning, or even occupying, a property are still on deeds from the East to the West Coasts.

These restrictive covenants have not been legally enforceable since 1948, when the U.S. Supreme Court nullified them, according to The Associated Press.

But their mere presence on a property deed is a slap in the face to the groups targeted by these restrictions and a reminder that it hasn't been that long since this type of discrimination was allowed.

Fahey, a Eugene Democrat, discovered that it's not that simple, or cheap, to get these covenants removed. So she sponsored a bill that would make it easier. House Bill 4134 passed the House on a unanimous vote, with one absence. It is expected to easily pass the Senate, which held its first hearing on the bill Tuesday.

But it would be wrong to consider the matter finished, or to see the covenants as no more than a distasteful and embarrassing reminder of the institutionalized racism that is woven into Oregon's history.

These covenants had more than an emotional impact, and were more than just an inconvenience. They restricted entire groups of people from one of the most basic ways to build wealth: investing in real estate in the neighborhood of their choice.

It also laid the foundation for a more subtle form of discrimination, Jenny Lee, a representative of the Coalition of Communities of Color, told legislators: "The impact of legalized housing discrimination continues today, as families of color face barriers to home ownership and are the hardest hit by rising rental housing costs and displacement."

The Legislature needs to look at the repeal of these racist covenants as the beginning, not the end, of a discussion.

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