Acknowledging Boise’s Past: Student Research Helped Create Legislation to Remove Racial Clauses

McKay Cunningham started the Redline project after watching a interactive map.

The map showed all the cities where the federal government participated in the redlining, a post-Great Depression practice that ensured residential segregation was maintained in cities and counties across the United States. The College of Idaho professor, who is also the director of experiential learning on campus, noticed that the Idaho part of the map was empty.

This encouraged him to start a research project with C of I students investigating discriminatory housing practices in Idaho, a project that would eventually lead to change in Idaho law through the State Senator Melissa Wintrow. Senate Bill 1240. The law came into effect on July 1.

In their research, the students discovered and mapped more than 50 subdivisions in Ada County containing thousands of properties with racially discriminatory clauses attached to them..

Racial discrimination in housing in Idaho in the 20th century

Stabilizing the national economy after the Great Depression, policymakers focused on increasing home ownership by financially supporting mortgages for families to build housing estates. During this process, policymakers created color-coded lines separating and classifying red subdivisions as “at risk” investments. People living in the subdivisions mapped by red lines were mostly people of color.

The image above is an example of a redlining map of Spokane, Washington in 1947. The key offers a residential security ranking in which red subdivisions rank fourth. (Courtesy of The Redline Project)

With neither the government nor the banks offering housing loans to residents living in red subdivisions, the US government has contributed to decades of systematic exclusion of people of color from becoming homeowners.

In addition to redlining, private landowners and developers have used race covenants, which are agreements and restrictions established between the buyer and seller of a property, to prohibit all non-whites from residing in a given division.

Senelile Dlamini, one of the project’s student researchers and a senior at the College of Idaho, said the main reason there is a racial wealth gap is that redlining and racial covenants prevent people of color from becoming owners, because home ownership is one of the main ways families can pass on their wealth to future generations.

According to the US Federal Reserve, the net worth of a typical white family is $188,200. That’s about eight times that of a Black family at $24,100 and more than five times that of a Latinx family at $36,100.

In their research, the students hope to show Idahoans how discriminatory housing practices in the past have had a generational impact on racial and ethnic minorities and their families’ ability to accumulate wealth.

Idaho Senate Bill 1240

Project Redline played a vital role in the passage of Senate Bill 1240.

In March, the Idaho Legislature unanimously passed a bill allowing Idaho homeowners to take their title deeds to their county clerk’s office and override its race clauses. Some counties in Idaho have a virtual option on their website to cancel the language of their title deeds.

The Intermountain Fair Housing Council put Cunningham and his team in touch with Wintrow, who was already working to resolve the issue after one of his constituents noticed the racially restrictive language in the deed to their home.

Senator Melissa Wintrow
Sen. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, works from the Senate floor at the Idaho Capitol on Jan. 17, 2022. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

“His students have been great to work with,” Wintrow said. “He and his students mapped the state to see where these alliances are.”

After working with legal experts, real estate agents and Cunningham’s research team, Wintrow sponsored Senate Bill 1240. The bill was signed into law by Governor Brad Little at a ceremony in March.

With Idaho’s New Exercise from July 1, the new law makes it easier for owners to remove restrictive racial language from their property title a historic relic that has remained untouched since the earliest practices of racial discrimination in housing.

If it’s already prohibited by the Fair Housing Act, is there a problem?

In 1968, the Fair Housing Act prohibited discrimination in housing based on race. However, racial clauses continue to persist in Ada County home deeds.

Why did legislators create a law when racial discrimination is already prohibited? One reason is to educate Idahoans about the impact systemic racism has had on generations of people of color, Cunningham said.

Unlike their white counterparts, people of color did not have federal financial support to buy a home or choose where to live.

Dler Awsman, a senior who participated in the research project, said racial alliances leave a legacy of classifying people of color into lower status.

“Racial pacts state that non-white people cannot live here unless they are servants of white people. It shows the logic that built Boise’s history that its people of color were only dignified when they served whites,” Awsman said.

Joseph Howell, a junior research associate and student, said discriminatory housing policies contribute to modern racial stigma.

“If your neighborhood looks good because you have access to mortgages and banks willing to invest in your neighborhood, but then you see rundown neighborhoods where people of color live, then the idea that comes to mind might be, ‘Oh, these people must be lazy, bad businessmen or criminals,’ Howell said. ‘These housing policies have fueled racist thinking.’

The exclusive character of the accommodation

Rachel Miller, a history professor at the College of Idaho and a research advisor for the project, said the research starts a conversation about the proprietary nature of property values.

“Property is the safest place to put your money, and yet it’s fundamentally still exclusive,” Miller said. “Whether there is a breed restriction, trailer restrictions or secondary suite restrictions, these rules are designed to protect property values. They are not rules to make life equal or fair.

Miller said she hopes this research will help Idahoans understand how homes and properties obtain their value through exclusionary policies.

racial clause in the deed
The image above is a racial pledge found in approximately 228 property deeds located in the Warm Springs Subdivision of Boise, Idaho. (Courtesy of The Redline Project)

“This research leads us to wonder how homes get their value,” she said. “We need a joint reimagining of the kind of place we want to live in and how we want housing to work.”

While the research focused on race pacts in Ada County subdivisions, Miller said race pacts aren’t the only historic effort policymakers have made to exclude residents. She adds that the displacement of natives and the demolition of Chinatown in Ada County also show how policymakers envisioned a city without them.

“This project reminds us of a powerful vision of what Ada County was meant to look like, a prosperous, new, modern Boise full of beautiful homes and neighborhoods full of white people,” Miller said.

Contradict unanimous bill that used critical race theory

Weeks after the unanimous passage of Senate Bill 1240, the Idaho Legislature moved to pass a bill exposing the use of critical race theory in schools.

“Part of me wonders if this work could have been done at a public university in light of the critical race theory debate,” Cunningham said. “I think what we’re doing is what a lot of lawmakers don’t want. That is, to study and evaluate the racist policies of our past and their impact on us today.

Wintrow said that despite the debate in the Idaho Legislature over the use of critical race theory in schools, this unanimous bill illustrates how critical race theory has played a role. important in identifying racist housing policies in Idaho.

“This is essential legislation to recognize that our federal and state government and private companies have legally incorporated racist practices that have denied people of color access to the American Dream,” Wintrow said. “It does not erase or repair the loss of wealth for these people, but in the future he says it existed, it was real and the government was part of it. Advance, we denounce it.

Wintrow said state and national extremists are misusing the word critical race theory to strike a chord in America’s middle class.

“Extremists misuse the term critical race theory for their own purposes to instill fear without making the world a better place, but we’re smarter than that and we’re better neighbors than that,” Wintrow said. “I ask the people of Idaho to understand the fabrications of the disinformants who are trying to renounce hate in our state and our education.”

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