Historic Housing Barriers in Jefferson County

Housing and homeownership are essential to economic mobility. Yet, despite their importance, many residents of Jefferson county struggle with high housing and homeownership costs. These housing barriers are most acutely felt by Black, Indigenous, and other Jefferson county residents of color. In 2018, homeownership rates for Native American, Hispanic, and Black residents of Jefferson county were at least 30 points lower than that of their white peers.

Importantly, the above-mentioned differences are the result of historic, intentional, policies and systems that have severely limited homeownership options for families of color. This report discusses these policies and their continuing effects on the lives of Jefferson county residents. We conclude by looking at what can be done to begin reversing these historic inequities and the long-term impacts they have had on generational wealth building for Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) in Jefferson county.

Historic and Ongoing Policies

Efforts to restrict housing access for BIPOC residents took many forms, including redlining, the creation of racial covenants, the adoption of exclusionary zoning policies, racial violence, and more. Their presence in Jefferson county is explored below.

REDLINING

Redlining was a discriminatory practice, legally used up until the late 1960s, that assigned ratings to communities based upon their perceived quality, creditworthiness, and lending risk. Ratings included:

  • A: Best and colored green
  • B: Still desirable and colored blue
  • C: Declining and colored yellow
  • D: Hazardous and colored red

These ratings were primarily based upon an area’s racial and/or ethnic makeup; not its actual quality, creditworthiness, or lending risk. Communities colored blue or green were either all, or predominantly, composed of middle or upper-class, American-born, white families. Yellow areas were usually made-up of recently arrived European immigrants. Finally, red areas were labeled as such because Black, Asian, Mexican, and Jewish families lived in these areas.

Importantly, an area’s coloring directly impacted a family’s ability to receive an affordable home loan. While the practice of redlining was used by private lenders, it was also employed by the Federal Housing Agency for the issuance of federally backed home loans. Through the practice of redlining, preferential treatment was provided to white families living in blue or green areas, which were given easier access to affordable credit.

The majority of the above-mentioned maps were created for large cities with populations of 40,000 and above. As the county’s entire population was under 56,000 through 1950, redlining maps are not easily accessible for municipalities in Jefferson County. However, the redlining maps that do exist for Denver show that neighborhoods on the western side of the city, which share a border with Jefferson county, were colored yellow and red. As it’s unlikely that the racial and ethnic makeup of these communities changed abruptly at the city’s borders, redlining and its impacts likely spilled over into Jefferson county.

RACIAL COVENANTS

Racial covenants – or language included on property deeds which specified who was allowed, or not allowed, to live on a piece of property – were often used in conjunction with redlining up until 1950. Racial covenants generally took one of two forms: In the first, a covenant would state that “Negro”, “Jewish,” or other specified races were not allowed to live in or own property in a specific area. The latter stated who could live in that area, which was generally “Caucasian” people. Not surprisingly, these race covenants did not restrict who could work in the area – people of color could work in the houses of white people, they just couldn’t live next door.

Racial covenants, signed by local officials, were prominent in Jefferson county. Christopher Thiry, Map & GIS Librarian and Academic Outreach Coordinator at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, built an outstanding mapping tool showing race covenants throughout Jefferson County. The interactive map can be explored here. This map shows that racial covenants were located all across Jefferson county, with a particular concentration in Lakewood. Notably, Thiry’s map shows that covenants were also present in Evergreen and Indian Hills, proof that this practice was not limited to the eastern part of the county.

Along with Jefferson county elected officials, the judicial system concurred with the legality of race covenants. The Colorado Supreme Court found in 1930 that a Japanese-American man could not purchase a Kelton Heights home in Lakewood. The court stated:

A person who owns a tract of land and divides it into smaller tracts for the purpose of selling one or more may prefer to have as neighbors persons of the white, or Caucasian, race, and may believe that prospective purchasers of the several tracts would entertain a similar preference, and would pay a higher price if the ownership were restricted to persons of that race.

EXLUSIONARY ZONING

Exclusionary zoning laws continue to be a prominent root cause of ongoing homeownership disparities. While explicit race-based zoning was deemed illegal by the United States Supreme Court in the 1917 decision Buchanan v. Warley, other forms of exclusion continued. For example, some zoning laws limit allowable types of housing and where they can be built. Other examples include minimum square footage and/or lot size requirements and building height restrictions. 

Though they may be less obvious forms of discrimination, exclusionary zoning laws have racist origins and were an attempt to keep people of color out of certain neighborhoods. These exclusions have contributed to racial concentrations of poverty. Moreover, accounting for other factors, studies have found a strong positive relationship between exclusionary zoning laws and higher housing prices – a fact which makes it harder, as discussed below, for BIPOC families to purchase homes. 

In Jefferson county, multiple municipalities continue to have zoning laws that prioritize single family homes over more affordable options like duplexes and condos. For example, in both Lakewood and Arvada, only single family homes are allowed in significant portions of these cities.

RACIAL VIOLENCE

Discriminatory as the above policies are, more insidious and violent forms of discrimination kept BIPOC communities away from Jefferson county. For example, sundown towns, found throughout the United States between 1890 and 1968, were also present in Jefferson county. Golden was one such sundown town, prohibiting Black people from visiting the city for any service such as the use of restaurants or gas stations. 

Moreover, the Ku Klux Klan had a strong presence in Jefferson county and used Golden as a hub for its metro Denver activities. The peak of South Table Mountain in Golden – known as Castle Rock – was the site of many Klan rallies in the 1920s. In 1925, 10,000 women marched down Wadsworth Avenue in Arvada in the pursuit of joining the male-only Klan. Public records suggest about one-third of white, US-born men in the Denver metro area were Klan members during the early 1920s.

COMPOUNDING FACTORS

In addition to the discriminatory practices discussed above, it’s also important to keep in mind that a range of other racist policies compounded and exacerbated housing inequities. Racist lending and labor practices are among the most concerning.

  • Lending Practices: In addition to the discriminatory lending practices connected to redlining, it should be noted that the financial industry has a long history of other biased actions against BIPOC individuals. These historic policies continue to affect BIPOC Coloradans, who are less likely to have a bank account than white individuals. This, in turn, reduces access to affordable and accessible loans. As seen below, BIPOC residents in Jefferson county are both more likely to have subprime home loans – which are more expensive – and experience mortgage loan denials.
  • Wages and Labor: As the Bell has previously documented, Coloradans of color have had disparate access to higher education opportunities, which in-turn has contributed to lower wages for members of these communities. As seen below, these disparities in Jefferson county continue to this day. Especially as prices continue to increase, lower wages prevent some BIPOC residents in Jefferson county from purchasing a home.

Impact on Present

While many of the formal policies, such as redlining and racial covenants, that created homeownership discrepancies no longer formally exist, their impacts are still present in Jefferson county and beyond. These policies continue to affect where Jefferson county residents live, the value of their homes, and their overall health and well-being.

HOME OWNERSHIP AND WEALTH DISPARITIES

Most notably, the policies above have had a direct impact on homeownership rates in Jefferson county. While 75 percent of non-Hispanic whites own their homes, just 43 percent of Hispanic households own their home, and only 28 percent of Black households are homeowners. These gaps in Jefferson county  are substantially greater than the statewide rates, where 51 percent of Hispanic households own their home and 43 percent of Black households are homeowners. 

Owning a home remains the primary form of wealth creation for Americans. Importantly, the impacts of disparate homeownership rates grow over time. For example, researchers have found that housing disparities explain more than 30 percent of the racial wealth gap between Black and white households.

HOME VALUES

In addition to depressing homeownership rates for Jefferson county residents of color, the policies discussed above contributed to lower home values for those who are owners. While Jefferson county-specific studies have not yet been completed, national research finds that homes that were subject to a racial covenant have greater value than those that were not subject to these restrictions. For example, a 2021 University of Minnesota study found that covenanted homes in Minneapolis have a “3.4 percent higher present-day” value than their non-covenanted counterparts, and “census blocks with a larger share of covenanted lots have smaller Black populations and lower Black homeownership rates.” Although covenants and redlining were outlawed with the 1968 Fair Housing Act, the racially segregated neighborhoods they created persist today.

HEALTH IMPACTS

Finally, it should be noted that the impacts of reduced homeownership have an extensive range of other long-term effects. For example, racial segregation due to exclusionary zoning is connected to increased housing prices and higher concentrations of poverty in lower-income neighborhoods. A national study found that children’s long-term outcomes suffer from living in lower-income neighborhoods, measured in lower lifetime earnings, educational attainment, and standardized test scores.

ONGOING WORK TO CLOSE GAPS

Though far too late, there are efforts to redress the historical wrongs that have been perpetuated through public policy to limit access to homeownership and wealth building opportunities for BIPOC Coloradans. These include:

  • During the 2024 legislative session, state policymakers passed SB24-053: Racial Equity Study. This bill requires the completion of a formal study which will evaluate the ongoing impacts of slavery and systemic racism on Black Coloradans. Redlining and racial covenants are two prominent policies that will likely feature heavily in this fact-finding study. Uncovering further historical evidence and quantifying ongoing impacts will provide important data for implementing state and local policies that build greater racial equity for Black people in Jefferson county. 
  • Philanthropic efforts, specifically the Dearfield Fund for Black Wealth which is spearheaded by Gary Community Ventures, are working to increase homeownership rates for Black Coloradans. This fund specifically focuses on the six-county Denver metro area, including Jefferson county, and provides downpayment assistance to first time homebuyers. Efforts such as these can make intentional, tangible progress in reducing homeownership gaps. 
  • Finally, new policy proposals are also coming to the fore. For example, Root Policy  Research suggests a 5 percent down payment assistance program to 10 percent of renting households could significantly reduce statewide homeownership disparities. If this approach were directed only to Black Coloradan renting households statewide, then the homeownership rate would jump from 43 to 60 percent. The gains for Hispanic households would be less–from 51 to 53 percent–as they compromise a larger portion of the state’s population. This proposed program would cost $360 million. 

In 2022, Colorado voters approved Proposition 123, an initiative that directs several hundred million dollars in funding for affordable housing. One of the key components is a down payment assistance program for first-time homebuyers. Local leaders could use this mechanism to target down payment assistance to BIPOC households across the county to reduce local homeownership gaps.

Looking Forward

The discriminatory barriers to housing faced by BIPOC families in Jefferson county are deeply rooted in historic policies and continue to perpetuate racial and economic disparities today. From redlining and race covenants to exclusionary zoning and sundown towns, these practices have systematically excluded certain groups from accessing housing opportunities and accumulating wealth. 

While progress has been made in some areas, much work remains in order to achieve true equity. Moving forward, it is essential for policymakers, community leaders, and residents to confront these injustices head-on and implement targeted interventions to dismantle systemic racism in housing. This includes initiatives such as down payment assistance programs and broader efforts to address systemic racism in all its forms. By working together, we can create a more just and equitable future where everyone has access to safe, affordable housing and the opportunity to build wealth for themselves and future generations.