Because of an editing error, a story Saturday about the Justice Department's suit against a racially restrictive covenant in a Houston subdivision said that the subdivision was predominantly black. The subdivision is predominantly white but is in a predominantly black section of Houston.
The Justice Department filed a civil suit yesterday challenging covenants in real estate deeds aimed at preventing blacks from owning homes in a subdivision of Houston, although blacks do live in the subdivision.
The department also filed suit in U.S. District Court in Houston against the clerk of the county courthouse where the deeds were filed, asking the federal court to require the Harris County clerk to record no deed with racial restrictions.
Assistant Attorney General William Bradford Reynolds, head of the department's civil rights division, said the recording of the covenants "establishes an air of credibility to the covenants that is both repugnant and antithetical to the policies underlying the passage of the Fair Housing Act."
This is the first time the Justice Department has filed a suit over a racially restrictive covenant, spokesman John Wilson said, "because we don't know about these things until people bring them to our attention . . . . some homeowners in the subdivision brought this to our attention."
Most of the department's previous suits regarding the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination in housing, were inspired by cases in which blacks were refused housing.
In this case, however, a few blacks purchased homes in the subdivision, Wilson said. In addition, a number of Vietnamese-American, Chinese-American and Indian-American families live there, according to Farris Block, who lives in the subdivision. Block and another resident estimated that 20 percent of the subdivision's residents are non-whites.
"People here don't like the fact that the covenant exists," Block said. " . . . We ignore the part about only allowing whites."
Deed covenants are a common feature for subdivisions. But most are written to require homeowners to maintain property in a certain way, such as keeping the grass cut. In Houston, there are "quite a few" subdivisions with racially restrictive covenants, Wilson said, and the department intends to file additional suits against such covenants.
The covenant for the University Oaks subdivision says, "None of the lots in said addition shall ever be sold, conveyed, leased or devised to any person or persons other than of the Caucasian Race."
The covenant was first written and adopted by the homeowners in 1939. It has been renewed every 10 years, the last time in 1980. Each time the covenant was renewed, a declaration was filed with the recorder of deeds in the county courthouse.
County Clerk Anita Rodeheaver, named in one of the suits, said in a telephone interview that she could not refuse to file the covenants because "under state law and the attorney general rulings, I don't have the legal authority to refuse anything."
About 150 homes are in the predominantly black, middle-income subdivision in the southeast section of Houston near the University of Houston whose president, John Baust, is the president of the subdivision's civic club and was named in the suit.