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Montgomery Planning briefs Planning Board on the Mapping Segregation Project

Planning Department Staff studied deed records, census data to identify racial covenants in Montgomery County inside the Capital Beltway; online mapping tool available for the public to explore data

Wheaton, MD – The Montgomery County Planning Department, part of The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC), presented their initial findings of the first phase of the Mapping Segregation Project to the Montgomery County Planning Board on Thursday, December 1, 2022. Staff from the Department’s Historic Preservation Office provided detailed research on the prevalence of restrictive covenants for the area of Montgomery County located inside the Capital Beltway. Staff also shared the online mapping tool created to illustrate legal discriminatory housing practices, historical patterns of segregation, and Black homeownership in the Downcounty planning area from 1882-1952.

“I commend our Historic Preservation Office staff for their work on the Mapping Segregation Project,” said Acting Planning Director Tanya Stern. “We have completed the first steps towards a more accurate understanding of Montgomery County’s history of restrictive covenants that prevented Black, Jewish, and Asian-American residents from living in certain parts of the county during the 20th Century. It is an important tool for Montgomery Planning’s Equity Agenda for Planning to inform our future master planning and policy development, and this data is also now accessible to the community.”

“One of the project goals was to ground what we already knew about the policies of racial exclusion with the factual data within the land records of Montgomery County so we could help to tell the specific stories of these communities,” said Historic Preservation Office Supervisor Rebeccah Ballo.

About the project

The Mapping Segregation Project has created tools to explore the history of patterns of segregation inside the Capital Beltway of Montgomery County, part of an open exploration of Montgomery County’s history of spatial segregation and its impacts on our present and future. This project also furthers the Montgomery County Planning Department’s Equity Agenda for Planning that seeks to apply an equity lens to master planning, analyzing past and present inequities in the county, and understanding the influence of institutional racism on planning and development of the county.

The scope of work for the first phase of the Mapping Segregation Project included an examination of similar projects nationwide and investigation of redlining, racial restrictive covenants, and mortgages refinanced by the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) in Montgomery County. As the HOLC “redlining” maps are not available for Washington, DC, or its environs, the project team focused its efforts on the documentation of racial restrictive covenants, which were private contractual agreements that prohibited the sale, rent, lease, or occupation of property based on a person’s race, ethnicity, or religious affiliation.

The team will provide additional demographic information to contextualize the legacy of racism and discrimination at the neighborhood level in the areas studied during Phase 1 of the Mapping Segregation Project.

Three key findings include:

  1. Real estate developers working in Montgomery County employed racial restrictive covenants and other tools of de jure and de facto segregation throughout the 20th century, deliberately restricting where African-American, Jewish, and Asian residents could buy homes and live.
  2. Even where codified racism was seemingly absent, voluntary discriminatory practices abounded, with homeowners’, landlords’, developers’, and others’ choices of who could buy or rent which properties where, and violent threats (and actions) against “undesirable” potential residents persisting as deterrents. This race-based discrimination limited opportunities for the Black community to build intergenerational wealth through housing ownership at the same rate as white residents, and likely severely impacted the growth of the African-American population in the county at large.
  3. This project has resulted in the county having a more accurate documented understanding of the history of racial segregation and all of these data will now be mapped and publicly available. Having the data available will provide useful information for the Planning Department, historians, and interested residents and will help to inform future policy and planning efforts in furthering Montgomery Planning’s Equity Agenda for Planning.

How Montgomery Planning will use this research

Legal institutional racial discrimination was pervasive and broadly supported in Montgomery County until well into the mid-twentieth century, and mapping this legacy provides opportunities for education, further research, and potentially new forums to discuss the county’s history with greater precision, clarity, and understanding, as well as help inform considerations of the history of communities in Montgomery County during future master planning efforts. With the individual and community histories and interactive maps generated by this project, Montgomery Planning hopes to present the county with a more complete perspective on its past and inform a path toward realizing a more inclusive and equitable future through Montgomery Planning’s master plan efforts and policy initiatives.

About Montgomery Planning’s Equity Agenda in Planning

The Montgomery County Planning Department recognizes and acknowledges the role that our plans and policies have played in creating and perpetuating racial inequity in Montgomery County. We are committed to transforming the way we work as we seek to address, mitigate, and eliminate inequities from the past and develop planning solutions to create equitable communities in the future. While it will take time to fully develop a new methodology for equity in the planning process, we cannot delay applying an equity lens to our work. Efforts to date include:

About Montgomery Planning’s Historic Preservation Office

The Historic Preservation Office supports the Montgomery County Planning Board and the Historic Preservation Commission by providing for the identification, designation, and regulation of historic sites in Montgomery County. Historic Preservation staff also maintains an archive and library of documentation on historic resources in Montgomery County and provides preservation outreach and guidance on preservation best practices to the public.

If you are interested in historic buildings, sites and programs in Montgomery County parks, visit the Montgomery County Parks website for more information.