Austin Broker Wants Texas Homeowners To Change Racist Deeds

Robie Dodson and State Representative Erin Zwiener (LinkedIn, Erin Zwiener For Texas House, Getty)

Robie Dodson and State Representative Erin Zwiener (LinkedIn, Erin Zwiener For Texas House, Getty)

Robie Dodson had been an Austin real estate agent for seven years when she spotted some disturbing language in a home’s deed. The document stated that no part of the property could be bought, sold or leased to anyone who was not of Caucasian blood.

“I was totally shocked,” Dodson, who is White, told KXAN. Her client who had been interested in buying the home was equally offended. “My client said they didn’t want a house that had that attributed to it. And so, they pulled away, and we just moved on.”

These racist clauses — called racially restrictive covenants — are found in deeds across the country. For much of the 20th century, it was common practice for white homeowners to insert such restrictions into their deeds to bar Asian, Latino and Jewish, but especially Black Americans from moving into their neighborhoods. In 1948, the Supreme Court ruled that these covenants were unenforceable but not illegal. In 2020, spurred by countrywide protests against institutional racism, many states and several U.S. territories pushed through legislation to make it easier for homeowners to remove racially restrictive covenants.

Last year, the Texas House of Representatives tried to follow suit, passing House Bill 1202. However, the Texas Senate instead passed a watered down version of the measure in Senate Bill 30, which has no initiatives to educate or encourage property owners to remove the racist language in their deeds.

“It’s a step forward,” says Texas House Rep. Erin Zwiener (D-Blanco and Hays). “It removes filing fees, it makes the process smoother, but it does still require every single property owner to have the capacity to know how to file this document with the court.”

Enter Dodson’s Fair Deed Project.

In 2020, four years after she first discovered the racially restrictive covenant in the deed, Dodson was closely following the aftermath of the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd.

“I looked at my husband, and I was like, ‘Well, I can’t change the world, but I do know that there are these things that say that you can’t buy a property if you don’t have white skin. Maybe we can fix that,’” she told KXAN.

So Dodson launched the Fair Deed Project, a non-profit which aims to educate and mobilize property owners with racist covenants in their deeds to have it removed.

The organization started its efforts last week in a south Austin neighborhood where the deeds state the properties cannot be inhabited by Mexicans or Africans, dropping off flyers at about 70 homes with information about racially restrictive covenants. No one has called them yet, but Dodson remains hopeful that once homeowners are educated on the issue, they will be motivated to have the language removed.

“Central Texas has a history of thinking of itself as very progressive, but unfortunately, there is a big legacy of racial discrimination here in Austin and the surrounding areas. Removing this language from our deeds is an affirmative step forward,” Zwiener said.

The state representative pointed out that the only thing keeping these racial restrictions from being enforced today is a Supreme Court ruling — which could well be overturned if challenged.

“The Supreme Court has certainly taught us this last year that we shouldn’t count on a ruling staying static. If we have things like these zombie covenants, we need to get them off of the books so that they can’t go back into effect in the future,” she said.

— Maddy Sperling

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