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Kansas bills would make it easier for Johnson County cities to get rid of racist housing covenants

A house in Roeland Park, Kansas.
Shawnee Mission Post
Roeland Park drafted two bills with local legislators to offer a simpler way to remove racist covenants from deeds.

Two bills introduced in the Kansas Legislature were drafted by officials in Roeland Park, which has struggled for years to fully eliminate racist deed restrictions that are now illegal to implement but remain stubbornly on the books of homeowners' associations.

Cities in Johnson County could find it easier to erase racist language from local housing covenants with legislation now making its way through the Kansas Statehouse.

Two bills — SB 77 andHB 2174 — were drafted by officials in Roeland Park, which has struggled for years to fully eliminate racist deed restrictions that are now illegal to implement but remain stubbornly on the books of some now-defunct homeowners’ associations’ bylaws.

The legislation is garnering support from other cities, including Overland Park and Lawrence, and is also drawing attention in Prairie Village, which has dealt with its own legacy of racist housing covenants. Prairie Village will have its diversity committee discuss the issue at its meeting this month.

Cities would have more power to remove racist language

Roeland Park City Administrator Keith Moody said the city’s main issue has been the fact that there are no more active homeowners associations in Roeland Park.

Current state law says only HOAs can remove discriminatory language from their bylaws, and if there is no active HOA, there is no agency to do that and nobody to hold accountable for racist language that remains on the books, Moody said.

The bills introduced in Topeka this week would change state law to allow cities “to redact the discriminatory language from either the plat or a set of covenants and restrictions recorded with the plat.”

State Sen. Ethan Corson, a Democrat from Fairway, and state Rep. Rui Xu, a Democrat from Westwood, introduced the bills in their respective chambers.

While such racially restrictive covenants are no longer legally enforceable, Corson said, he thinks it is still important to give cities and counties the option to remove the language to reaffirm the community’s commitment to diversity and inclusivity.

“I think it’s a painful vestige for the bad parts of our history where this happened,” Corson said.

Xu said it’s important to show specifically Black and Jewish members of the community “this is certainly not something our neck of the woods stands for.”

“I can only imagine being Black or Jewish and then owning a house with this type of language on your deed and the strong desire for it to be gone,” Xu said.

Covenants locked out Black and Jewish homebuyers

A blue home in Roeland Park, Kansas.
Juliana Garcia
Shawnee Mission Post
A home in Roeland Park, which now no longer has any active homeowners’ associations.

Driven by developers like J.C. Nichols,northeast Johnson County’s population exploded nearly a century ago, but many of these new planned subdivisions came with restrictions that explicitly excluded Black and Jewish homebuyers.

In a letter in support of the new legislation, Roeland Park officials included language from one of the city’s defunct homeowners’ associations that said homes should never be sold or rented to “any person of Negro blood or [to] any person who is more than one-fourth of the Semitic race, blood, origin or extraction.”

“The need for change is obvious,” the city’s letter reads. “We should not tolerate even the remnants of racism.”

The Senate bill is scheduled for a hearing Feb. 9

Corson said the hearing before the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee will include testimony from cities, realtors and hopefully community members.

“We’re pleased to hear it’s going to have a hearing, we’re hopeful that that will result in it being moved out of committee and given an opportunity for a vote on the floor of the Senate,” Moody said.

Xu said he’s not heard any backlash or negative comments on this bill and he doesn’t anticipate much opposition.

This story was originally published on the Shawnee Mission Post.

Juliana Garcia is a reporter with the Shawnee Mission Post.
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