No one can deny that racism has played a role in housing, as it has in virtually every aspect of society since the founding of our country. Like me, however, I bet you’ll learn some things you didn’t know from this study of racism in zoning written by my friend, Don Cameron. While this study is of the City of Golden, it would be fair to say that it reflects the evolution of zoning throughout the country. Click here for Don’s full report with artwork, photos and footnotes.
A History of Golden Zoning
Golden Colorado circa 2020 has zoning that is best described as Euclidean, named after a court case in Euclid, Ohio. Euclidean zoning prescribes various areas in town to have various uses by right, and other uses that can be obtained by special permit.
Prior to that court case in Ohio, it was not clear that the government had a role in regulating land use, and individual landowners could pretty much do what they wanted. But in 1922 the Supreme Court ruled that municipalities had the right to regulate land use.
Golden’s history of zoning was initially one of mutual agreement between the town’s settlers and the city in laying out streets, creating easements for streets and utilities, but generally leaving land development to the individual owners. This sort of planning resulted in building on some lots that don’t meet current lot minimums, a variety of housing types and a mix of commercial and residential uses in some areas.
From 1954 onward, though, this mix of uses did not fit neatly into the districts that were created. Because of the mix of use types that already existed, some areas were zoned as commercial even though they had a large proportion of housing that was built as single family homes.
Other areas were zoned for higher density in anticipation of growth that in some cases still has not come. Later developments were zoned planned use development (PUD), with uses identified that were specified on the plats and may have included mixed use.
In parallel to this history there were also restrictive housing policies that were in place in Jefferson County, including Golden. Specifically, redlining was a practice put in place at the federal level by the Home Owners Loan Corporation in 1938.
Redlining defined areas where federally backed loans could and could not be obtained. Golden itself had no redlining map, but let’s look at Golden’s history.
From the 1880s and into the 1920s property owners could pretty much do what they wanted. There were no explicit covenants preventing Blacks or non-Caucasians from buying or building in Golden. However, the 1920s also saw our government filled with KKK members and sympathizers and a reduction in Black (Negro at the time) residents in Jefferson County.
While Blacks in the county and city were few in number in the 1920s, nonetheless the KKK burned crosses on South Table Mountain’s Castle Rock formation above where Coors’ tourist parking lot is now.
There was a measurable racist element in the population, and there was not a welcoming environment. The plats were already written, and the residential land use defined, so there was little “need” to be racist in zoning because there was no demand (that is, few black people lived in Golden).
This “lack of need for racist/exclusionary zoning” changed, however, in the late 1930s amid the boom leading up to World War II.
Again, land use at the time was mostly protecting individual property rights. While the Supreme Court had ruled that cities could control land use, there was a very hands-off approach to this. So the “law” was on the side of homeowners.
Starting in the 1920s and into the 1940s it was common for people in many areas of Jefferson County to say they’d only sell their property to those of the Caucasian or other non-Negro races.
The courts backed up this right because they were protecting homeowners’ use of their land and had no civic duty to prevent this discrimination. Blacks were excluded from being shown properties in these restrictive areas, and. if they tried to purchase them, they might have it taken away soon after.
In 1942 there was the case of a Black family trying to build a new development and victory garden near what is now Boyd Street. The family said they would put in all the utilities required to government code. Still, white citizens of Golden protested. The following article appeared in the October 22, 1942, edition of the Golden Transcript:
Citizens Protest to City Council
A large number of citizens appeared before the city council Wednesday evening, and stated that a group of colored people had taken possession of the land recently purchased by them east of the Clark’s Garden addition, within the city limits of Golden, and were apparently staking out some proposed building sites. These citizens protested to the city council the starting of a colored settlement in Golden.
It was pointed out in the meeting that the sale of the property had been approved by the county court on September 24, and that the purchase price for the 30-acre craft was $1,500, not including some legal and abstract of title cost…
The article went on to say that at the mayor’s direction, a citizen’s committee was formed to negotiate with the FHA to not allow this sale to go through and not fund it, claiming the cost of extending utilities would be burdensome. One of the citizens appointed to this committee was Casper Bussert.
Golden had few areas that were not platted, but when a new plat was put in for the Sunshine Park Addition in 1944, by this same Casper Bussert, he added a deed restriction limiting ownership to Caucasians.
While this would seem to violate the 14th Amendment, the Supreme Court had already ruled that the 14th Amendment was about states not discriminating based on race, but was silent on individuals’ ability to discriminate. However, in the late 1940s the NAACP and others started pushing back on these covenants using the following argument: If a black person were to buy a restricted property and then the state were to enforce the covenant, that would constitute a violation of the 14th Amendment, which eliminated slavery and gave Blacks the right to buy and own property.
In 1948 the Supreme Court ruled that these types of covenants were no longer enforceable. Almost immediately, and certainly by 1950 one sees a complete change to the covenants created in Golden and surrounding areas. Rather than explicitly restricting an area to whites, there were new restrictions excluding those without access to capital. Enter classism.
Even though redlining was no longer permitted, there were (and are) limits on Blacks’ ability to get loans on favorable terms. Some loans, for example, were interest only for the term of the loan, so one did not gain any equity until the loan term ended. Failure to make even one payment could result in “owners” losing their homes with no equity.
When new restrictions were put in place by the FHA, they targeted people without access to loans. An additional clause that targeted families with kids was the Nuisance Clause, which limited activities based on the opinion of the architectural control committee.
R1 (single-family) zoning, as laid out in the city code, shows a direct evolution from racist covenants to restrictive covenants to exclusionary zoning, all of which kept housing out of the hands of Blacks.
The legacy of this is the noticeable and persistent wealth gap in this country. Blacks, by being excluded from homeownership, have not been able to build wealth, escape blighted areas, or enjoy integrated schools. Because school funding is typically based on property taxes, school districts are self-segregated by wealth and thereby race.
In summary, Golden’s history follows the narrative of the country with respect to race. Land planning and zoning may be silent on race, but the effect of both planning and zoning continues to exhibit, in its end result, the heritage of systemic racism, to the detriment of Blacks in particular.
Email response received from Michael Nosler:
Jim, as always, your article was very interesting and timely as we must be reminded of our country’s systemic racist policies that contribute to the discord we experience today. I have a couple of other examples. First, the FHA was the driver for much of the single family homes constructed in suburbia during the 50s and 60s. It’s underwriting policies in the early days, mandated that “the neighborhood be homogeneous (segregated), with that homogeneity preferably assured through racist restrictive covenants, for which the FHA helpfully supplied forms.” Michael Carliner, Development of Federal Homeownership Policy, Housing Policy Debate9,no.2(1998)at 299-321. As quoted in Concrete Economics by Cohen and DeLong 2016 at p.96. In addition, I’ve read, but cannot remember the source, that the VA lending policies were similar. As a consequence, black GIs returning home, could only get loans for properties located in black communities(inner city residences) and thus were not able to build up the equity in their homes like the white GIs who were able to buy new homes on the large lots in suburbia.
This “homogenous neighborhood” requirement in federal lending practices prevented the mixing of the races in modern America, contributing to the racial divide we experience to this day.