The Roeland Park city council on Monday evening discussed an amendment to its non-discrimination ordinance that would outlaw discriminatory language in home owners associations covenants.
Although the United States Supreme Court has found racially restrictive covenants unenforceable, many property-related documents “in Roeland Park still contain covenants banning African Americans, Jews and other ethnic groups from ownership or occupancy,” according to city documents. Councilmember Benjamin Dickens, alongside Kelly and the city attorney, spearheaded the effort by bringing the amendment forward with a memorandum.
“We heard from some of our neighbors tonight about this and you know what, you’re right: it’s long overdue, should have been done quite a while ago,” Dickens said. “We can’t go back in time and we can’t unwrite the words, but I think this is the right step to say in this city, we don’t do this. We need to acknowledge that the sins of racism is not something that is part of our community, we’re not going to tolerate it.”
Prior to the discussion on the amendment, three residents addressed the city council about the remaining discriminatory language. One resident said she couldn’t believe this was a discussion in 2020, and was shocked when she found out about the language after purchasing a home — that, in accordance with the restrictive covenants, she shouldn’t have been able to purchase.
Another resident expressed similar sentiments about how long it’s taken for the discussion to happen, and said it’s unfair that minorities endure hostility from their communities. Roeland Park resident Stephanie Iser said she’s part of a neighborhood group that aims to make the neighborhood more welcoming for undocumented community members, called Safe and Welcoming Roeland Park. Iser said she has heard from Latino residents about racial bias in the city, and urged the city council to explore an ordinance policy to make the community more welcoming for undocumented individuals.
Councilmember Michael Rebne read a statement he prepared about the history of restrictive covenants in Johnson County. Rebne’s statement encouraged the acknowledgment that black people deserve the credit for fighting for equality, and that “investment equal to the disinvestment is what is owed.” Every other council member — including Tom Madigan, Jennifer Hill and Jan Faidley — who spoke on this were all in support of the amendment.
City Administrator Keith Moody told the Shawnee Mission Post following the meeting that at this time the city doesn’t have a full account of the number of HOAs in the city. There are approximately 20 areas in the city with names and are designated by blocks (such as Roe Manor Heights), but the city hasn’t researched which of the HOAs have racially restrictive covenants, Moody said.
Dickens said that as Roeland Park tends to be a leader in the area on such issues, the city can lead the effort on outlawing discriminatory covenants.
“I’ve talked to other city leaders, I’ve talked to other people in communities that also have restrictive covenants, they’re looking to get rid of them,” Dickens said. “I think Roeland Park can lead the way on that. We can say formally, as a city: no more.”
The city council agreed to consider the amendment onto new business at the March 2 city council meeting. If approved, the amendment would not rewrite or eliminate discriminatory HOA language, but would outlaw such language and any related discriminatory practices.