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New Indiana law addresses discriminatory language written into old home deeds

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A new Indiana law set to take effect in July will take aim at racist language in home deeds.

Though no longer enforceable, many homes still have it written that Black people and other minorities can’t live in certain communities.

The language in communities that have restricted covenants is very clear, outlining only white people would be allowed to live in the community. Household servants were the exception.

Although the language is no longer enforceable, getting the language removed is not easy. House Act 1314 has made way for some symbolic changes, with the hope that more will be done down the line.

“No person or persons of any race or mixture thereof other than the white race shall own, use or occupy any lot herein”: Even today, you can find this kind of language written into old home deeds. Some specifically list that negro, mulatto, Chinese, Japanese or any person or mixed race were prevented from living in certain communities and that household servants may occupy a room in a home with a white owner.

“And even if they’re not enforceable anymore today, they still haunt the neighborhoods because of the effects it had on them for so very long,” said Amy Nelson with the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana.

While the language may be archaic, it’s been hard to do anything about it. Republican Rep. Jerry Torr from District 39 has taken some initial steps with House Bill 1314.

“It passed in the House 95 to 0 and 46 to 0 in the Senate. There was never any opposition from anybody,” he said. However, some did request stronger measures be taken. But the assembly decided to move forward with the bill as is.

The act will now amend Indiana’s code concerning property — specifically discriminatory, restrictive covenants — saying if a person discovers a discriminatory restrictive covenant while in the process of buying a home, they can prepare a separate document that specifically says the discrimination is unenforceable.

“Although we are appreciative of some attention being brought to this issue, we certainly here at the Fair Housing Center would have liked to build (something) that had a little more teeth to it.”

Since the language was already not enforceable, Torr said the act is more of a symbolic gesture. Ideally, the best action would be to remove the language. That’s something housing advocates pushed for, but it’s not an easy process and is likely expensive.

“To actually change it, it would require more than just that one transaction. It would be the whole neighborhood that’s under the same covenants and restrictions,” Torr said.

Housing advocates say the homeownership divide is wider today than it was in 1968, when the government outlawed discriminatory lending and discriminatory sales.

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