Minnesota legislators have voiced support for a measure that would make it easier and cheaper for homeowners to repudiate a clause in the deeds to their houses that prohibits them from selling their homes to black people.

Known as "racial covenants," the racist requirements were written into the original deeds by developers from about 1910 through the 1940s.

While the covenants are no longer enforceable as a result of state legislation and federal law, a growing number of homeowners have expressed a desire to renounce the language in their deeds.

A small local organization, Mapping Prejudice, recruited several hundred volunteers to pinpoint addresses with racial covenants, and has so far uncovered about 15,000 home deeds in Hennepin County that contain the offensive language. The organizers believe the language exists in deeds throughout Minnesota.

Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, said at a legislative hearing Thursday that he introduced the bill in the current session after he learned about the Mapping Prejudice project and about a new law in California that allows a homeowner to file a document with the county recorder renouncing the deed without going to court.

The Legislature will not act on it this session, although several lawmakers expressed their support.

Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, has introduced a companion bill in the Senate. Davnie will reintroduce the bill next year.

The bill states that a homeowner could file a document to accompany the original deed voiding the restriction. Counties would charge about $40 for such a change, Mapping Project organizers said.

The attached document would state that the racist covenant is "discharged" and "released from the land" on which the house was built. It would apply to any restrictive covenant affecting a protected class, including those based on race, ethnicity or religious belief.

Davnie told the House's Civil Law and Data Practices Policy Committee that while developing language for the bill, he learned that the title for his own home in southeast Minneapolis contained a handwritten covenant.

It states, "Property shall not be sold, leased, mortgaged, or transferred to any person of the Negro race or to any person living with a person of the Negro race, and said party hereby agrees that if said property should ever be sold, leased or transferred to a person of the Negro race or any person married to or living with a person of the Negro race, the title thereto shall immediately revert to and vest in the fee in first party, heirs or assigns." It meant that the owner would lose the house.

"We learned Minneapolis was not always racially segregated," Kevin Ehrman-Solberg of the Mapping Prejudice project said at the hearing. Restrictive covenants played a major role in the development of segregated housing patterns, he said. In 1910, the city was highly integrated, but by 1940, there were distinct white and black neighborhoods.

He noted, for example, that in 1910, 17 black families lived near Lake Harriet, but by 1940, there were none as racial covenants became embedded in newly constructed homes.

Randy Furst • 612-673-4224