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August 5, 2021
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Ogden women removing racially restrictive wording from covenants

Women in Ogden are working to remove racially restrictive wording from covenants in the area. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

OGDEN — Homeownership is a staple of the American dream, but for decades that dream was made less available to minorities. We’ve recently heard of what’s called “redlining” in the East and South, but it was also very much a reality right here in Utah.

Where you live impacts where your kids go to school, their opportunities, and ultimately, how much wealth you’ll be able to pass on.

Just east of Harrison Boulevard in Ogden, Therese Grijalva recently learned something about her neighborhood and her home. It’s what brought her to the county recorder’s office to get help from Marisa Arreguin, a research assistant at Weber State University.

“I grew up in Ogden,” Arreguin said. “I know that there’s a lot of people that are going to question whether or not this even matters.”

Grijalva started taking steps to remove language from her home’s covenants which were written up for the whole subdivision in 1947. The covenants said homes there could not be occupied or owned by any race other than Caucasians.

“I think it’s important for my children to realize that we stand together and with everyone,” Grijalva said.

Several subdivisions with that same restriction came to light through the work of Jennifer Gnagey, an adjunct professor of economics at Weber State University.

“I’m a little ashamed,” Gnagey said. “I feel a little bit ugly and a little bit angry.”

Ogden isn’t alone in this. Grijalva started making those changes now for free after Utah House Bill 374 became law earlier this year, making it easier to remove restrictive covenants. The bill passed after properties with similar deeds were found in Salt Lake County. How many of them still exist in Utah is not clear.

Even though the U.S. Supreme Court struck down racially restrictive covenants in 1948, they were still used. Gnagey said, “These covenants were powerful because neighbors enforced them on each other.”

Gnagey’s research began after she found a map of Ogden from 1931 that showed how the city would grade parts of the city with letters.

Gnagey said that in “D” and some “C” grade areas, banks would deny mortgages to anyone based, in part, on minority populations there because that posed a perceived risk for default on a loan.

In the “A” or “B” areas is where you would find those restrictive covenants along with developers and homeowners that were unwilling to sell to minority families.

In Ogden, you can still see the footprints of that map today where, perhaps, the most recognizable division is along Harrison Boulevard where the good neighborhoods are to the east and the not so good are to the west.

Arreguin’s grandparents lived in a “D” neighborhood. “As of today, we still see things like segregation, legal segregation, legal means of segregation. There’s always a way about that,” she said.

Through things like minimum lot sizes and steering from some realtors, it still happens today.

The fact that there are people willing to take steps against it, Arreguin said, “It’s absolutely important to me.”

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