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Residents of Ann Arbor subdivision repeal race-restrictive covenant on their deeds

Map of cities in Washtenaw County with race-restrictive covenants
Justice InDeed
Map of cities in Washtenaw County with race-restrictive covenants.

It's not uncommon for homes in Michigan to still have language buried in deeds allowing sales to white people only.

Residents of one subdivision in Ann Arbor have taken action to remove a race-restrictive covenant that applied to their homes.

Patricia Villanueva Stepp was involved in the effort to get her neighbors to agree to repeal language that restricts home sales to whites only. She said even though the covenant can't be enforced, it retains the power to hurt. Villanueva Stepp was raised in Mexico.

"I wouldn't have been allowed to live here," she said of the time before state and federal laws changed to make such covenants and deed language illegal.

Villanueva Stepp said most of her neighbors had no idea the language was still on their deeds. 81% of residents — all of those contacted — agreed to sign the petition to repeal the covenant, with replacement language submitted to the Washtenaw County Register of Deeds office.

"It was priceless to see the expressions of some of the neighbors when they were reading the paragraph for the first time," she said.

The Civil Rights Litigation Initiative at the University of Michigan Law School and a community group called Justice InDeed assisted residents in the repeal effort.

They're now helping other neighborhoods in Washtenaw County to do the same thing.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Radio. She began her career at Michigan Radio as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.