Excerpted From: Jacqueline Nafstad, New Jim Crow of the North: CFOS, Nuisance, and Neosegregation, 44 Mitchell Hamline Law Journal of Public Policy and Practice. 142 (Spring, 2023) (129 Footnotes) (Full Document)


JacquelineNafstadFrom 2013 to 2018, police in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, forced landlords to terminate the leases of over 225 tenants for violating the city's crime-free housing ordinance. This is an average of over three evictions per month, and two out of three evicted tenants were never even charged with a crime. In one particular case, a tenant was evicted after her fiancé allegedly assaulted a police officer, even though she was not present when the incident occurred and never faced any charges. Two weeks after the incident, St. Louis Park police officers mandated that her landlord terminate her lease. Following the eviction, the tenant, who has struggled with mental health issues her entire life, was unable to find stable housing and is still struggling with homelessness over five years later. Similarly, two St. Louis Park landlords reported being forced to evict their tenants after the police obtained a warrant and found a small amount of marijuana at the property. One of the landlords stated, “It's almost like the ordinance is used to create a sort of gated community without the physical gate.”

Police were able to force these people from their homes by means of a CFO(Crime-Free Housing Ordinance), which, along with nuisance ordinances, are used to systematically exclude Black communities and other communities of color from the cities that enforce them. The history of Black people in America is related to property, policing, and exclusion. Further, property sits at the center of Black Americans' relationship to chattel slavery. Even after the abolition of chattel slavery and the passing of the Fourteenth Amendment, various mechanisms have evolved to perpetuate the policing, control, and exclusion of Black communities. For example, Black communities have endured generations of systemic exclusion through discriminatory policing, policies, and practices such as redlining, predatory lending, and unequal access to financial and residential opportunities. The concept of “racially exclusionary localism” started with “sundown towns,” which were white cities and towns across America that excluded Black communities through local ordinances and policies, racial covenants, and police violence.

While southern states were passing Jim Crow laws, northern states were implementing more covert strategies to redline neighborhoods, such as through racial covenants--“Jim Crow of the North”--to effectively segregate neighborhoods. In Minnesota, one of the longstanding discriminatory practices is the use of racial covenants in property deeds. Racial covenants are restrictive clauses incorporated into property deeds that explicitly excluded families of color from owning or living within the home. In fact, the University of Minnesota's Mapping Prejudice project has found 26,000 property deeds with racial covenants within Minnesota thus far. Although racial covenants were held unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in its 1948 decision Shelley v. Kraemer, the gap between white and Black homeownership in America is now wider than it was in the 1960s.

Further, the racial disparities in Minnesota today are staggering. A 2020 study revealed that Minnesota had the second largest income inequality gap in the nation, only behind the District of Columbia. Minnesota's average household income in 2018 was $70,315, yet the average income in Black or African American households was $36,849, less than half than that of white households. Minnesota also has disparate rates of homeownership across racial groups. For example, in 2019, the rate of Black homeownership in Minneapolis was only 19% while white homeownership was at 77%. The latest 2021 census revealed that 77.5% of white Minnesotans are homeowners, while only 30.5% of Black Minnesotans own homes. This enduring disparity in average household income and homeownership is evidence of deeply-seated structural racism and systemic exclusion that remains entrenched in Minnesota communities and across the nation.

Today, racial segregation in housing is perpetuated through local laws and policies, including Crime-Free Housing Ordinances and nuisance ordinances, which prevent integration through the exclusion of Black families and other families of color. According to the American Constitution Society, approximately 2,000 communities around the United States have adopted Crime-Free Housing Ordinances since 1992. Both Crime-Free Housing Ordinances and nuisance ordinances can undermine the primary goals of public safety by silencing victims of crime and domestic violence, discouraging the use of emergency services, increasing housing instability and homelessness, and reducing access to affordable housing. These discriminatory Crime-Free Housing Ordinances and nuisance ordinances are a form of neosegregation that function to uphold white property interests by policing and excluding Black communities. In order to rectify the systemic exclusion and housing neosegregation across America, Crime-Free Housing Ordinances and nuisance ordinances must be abolished, and public safety must be envisioned to include communities of color.

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Rectifying the harm Crime-Free Housing Ordinances and nuisance violations have on Black communities and other communities of color requires a ban on passing them into law in the first place, abolition of all existing ordinances, and a reimagining of other ways to address public safety concerns that encompasses the experiences of Black communities and other communities of color. Abolishing existing Crime-Free Housing Ordinances and nuisance ordinances requires a holistic approach that raises awareness of racial discrimination in housing and seeks to increase public safety for Black communities. There are encouraging signs that people are taking notice of this problem. The tenant advocates of HomeLine, a nonprofit in Minnesota, have called upon Minnesota cities to “immediately take action to suspend, review, and then amend and/or repeal their ordinances.” Additionally, The Shriver Center on Poverty Law declared, “[w]e cannot talk about dismantling systems of racial oppression and in turn, police reform, without considering one of the most blunt civil instruments law enforcement and local governments have at their disposal: crime-free and nuisance property ordinances.” But raising awareness only goes so far.

Any city that uses the criminal punishment system to enforce Crime-Free Housing Ordinances or nuisance violations effectively functions to uphold white property interests at the exclusion of people of color, maintaining neosegregation of American communities. Crime-Free Housing Ordinances and nuisance violations, like the ones passed in Robbinsdale and St. Louis Park, must be abolished in order to create the diverse, free, safe, and equitable American society our Constitution values. As Rinaldo Walcott argues, abolition is a state of being, an ongoing transformation that does not end “until Black people everywhere are free, equal, and safe.” Thus, there is no public safety, freedom, and equity without the abolition of Crime-Free Housing Ordinances and nuisance ordinances across America.

Jacqueline Nafstad, J.D. Candidate, Mitchell Hamline School of Law, May 2024.