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#OTGYpsi: Ypsilanti Township's West Willow Neighborhood working to amend racially restrictive deeds


Concentrate Ann Arbor

Sarah Rigg's Feature Article: Campaign seeks to amend antiquated, racially restrictive deeds in Ypsi Township neighborhood

New West Willow Neighborhood Association (NWWNA)

Justice InDeed


Rylee Barnsdale: You're listening to 89 one WEMU. I'm Rylee Barnsdale, and this is On the Ground Ypsi. While the historic Ypsilanti neighborhood, West Willow, consists of over 1000 homes, a document created in 1946 bans anyone who isn't white from living in nearly 200 of them. While the covenant referred to as West Willow One is no longer enforceable, having a racially restrictive covenant on the books in a community that is predominantly made up of people of color can cause stigma for the neighborhood and those that live in it. The University of Michigan collaborative project, Justice InDeed, is working with the New West Willow Neighborhood Association to not only eliminate the West Willow One covenant but also educate the public and local policymakers on how these covenants still can perpetuate housing segregation to this day. Here with me to talk a bit more about how these covenants are impacting this community is New West Willow Neighborhood Association president JoAnn McCollum. The New West Willow Neighborhood Association is more than 30 years old at this point. You've been on the board since 2014. You've acted as president since 2017. Can you give me a brief look at what the association does for the West Willow community?

JoAnn McCollum: Sure. So, one of the things that we do--we are really dedicated to helping our community, to helping the residents have a quality of life in a wonderful neighborhood with a wonderful history. Some of that history is not so wonderful, but most of it is. And we help with things, such as youth programs, senior programs, resources to give to residents and just helping with anything that people need.

Rylee Barnsdale: And the association kind of came out of a neighborhood watch kind of program. Is that right?

JoAnn McCollum: Absolutely. So, it was a neighborhood watch program, which there are quite a few in Ypsilanti Township. And what we found back then, when it first began, is that we could probably do more if we were an organization, a 501 c3. So, that was developed. And it has helped a lot in the community to bring in various grants, resources and to just to help pull people together and help them with any needs and support them and empower them.

Rylee Barnsdale: And coming from that neighborhood watch kind of background, it sounds like there's a really big emphasis on making sure the community and the people within the community feel safe. And I'm curious of how the presence of this racially restrictive covenant on this one part of land kind of impacts that and how that's making the folks living in those homes feel.

JoAnn McCollum: As soon as we found out about it, the organization found out about it, we wanted to help to take the stigma away from this, to repeal it, to empower people and to let them know that even though that's on there, we want to do something about it, and we don't want that to interfere with all the progress that we have made in the community. So, we were very excited to pull people together and to do something positive to about this.

Rylee Barnsdale: This is WEMU's On the Ground Ypsi. I'm Rylee Barnsdale, chatting with New West Willow Neighborhood Association president JoAnn McCollum. So, JoAnn, you're working with Justice InDeed on this project. And they are working across Washtenaw to remove more than 100 covenants like this one that still exist. But how did you first get connected with them? How did they come to West Willow and tell you about this project that they're doing?

JoAnn McCollum: Well, one of the benefits of having the New West Willow Neighborhood Association is that we are out in the community, not just in West Willow, but we are really known throughout the county. So, Justice InDeed, I discovered, because they are looking in the county for these restrictive deeds, they found that there were at least 100 or 200 of them in West Willow. And, immediately, they said they knew to contact someone on the New West Hill Neighborhood Association. So, they contacted me, and I met with them, along with the board and some of the residents that actually have this on record on their deed. And it was a very great meeting, and we were able to talk about it. And we're very happy that this is happening, because this is another way to get rid of racism.

Rylee Barnsdale: As far as the community response goes, you mentioned bringing in folks who are directly impacted, the community response I'm wondering about is there's folks that already knew about the language that is present in there, and there's folks that just learned about it through this collaboration with Justice InDeed. What are things that you're hearing from folks now?

JoAnn McCollum: So, first of all, they can't act on this fast enough. And even though the people that are living in the homes did not support this kind of deed, they have a feeling of embarrassment and maybe even a feeling of oppression because it's there and nothing was done about it. And I understand in 1946 is when it was made illegal to have this on there. Yet, some of the homes were built after that time. And that deed stood up. So, the community residents cannot wait to get this resolved.

Rylee Barnsdale: And you mentioned this particular covenant, as well as others like it no longer being legal. That was done up by the Fair Housing Act of 1968. You know, obviously, these aren't enforceable anymore. If you've got folks living in these homes that are people of color, but their home deeds say that they can't live there, what is the importance of removing that despite it not being upheld by the law?

JoAnn McCollum: It's very important. It's just a despicable act that of racism that was done. And to live in a house where that's on your deed is a feeling, as I said, of oppression. It's like it was ignored. Like, this is something very significant. You're buying a home. You're buying a quality of life. And yet, no one addressed the fact that it was saying you couldn't live there. So, I think it's very important that we resolve this and empower the residents that live in these homes.

Rylee Barnsdale: This is WEMU's On the Ground Ypsi. I'm talking with new West Willow Neighborhood Association President JoAnn McCollum about West Willow One, a racially restrictive covenant impacting nearly 200 homes in Ypsi's West Willow neighborhood. What is the process, Joanne, of removing this covenant? What is this work with Justice InDeed look like to get these documents off the record? And what do the homeowners affected have to do?

JoAnn McCollum: So, we need a certain percentage of homeowners, and that's 200. So, we need a large amount of those residents to come out and sign a document stating that they repeal this restrictive deed. First of all, we're going to have an educational session to educate people on what's going on. And then the next day, we're going to have a signing right in the middle of the 200 homes. There's a court right in the middle of those homes. We're going to put up a tent. We're going to have a notary public there, and they will be invited to sign a petition to repeal this act.

Rylee Barnsdale: What does removing this covenant in West Willow mean for the rest of Ypsi?

JoAnn McCollum: What it means is that it's voicing what we really feel and what we've really been working at, and that is for unity and for a better quality of life. And by doing this, we are actively achieving that. We're saying it loud and clear. We don't want this anymore. We don't want racism anymore. It has to go.

Rylee Barnsdale: And when can folks attend that town meeting?

JoAnn McCollum: March 16th at New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church and March 17th, Dodge Court. And the times, March 16th, we haven't settled with the time for either one. But, hopefully, there's some kind of way they could contact me.

Rylee Barnsdale: That'd be through the Facebook page for these meetings?

JoAnn McCollum: Yes. Yes. Actually, we are going to send postcards out to all 200 homes.

Rylee Barnsdale: Oh, awesome. Okay. Yeah.

JoAnn McCollum: But other residents can come to support this that don't have this on their deed.

Rylee Barnsdale: Well, thank you so much for being here, JoAnn, and for giving us some insight into West Willow and hopefully what is to come for West Willow.

JoAnn McCollum: Thank you for this opportunity.

Rylee Barnsdale: For more information on today's topic and links to the full article, visit our website at WEMU.org. On the Ground Ypsi is brought to you in partnership with Concentrate Media. I'm Rylee Barnsdale, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM, Ypsilanti.

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Concentrate Media's Rylee Barnsdale is a Michigan native and longtime Washtenaw County resident. She wants to use her journalistic experience from her time at Eastern Michigan University writing for the Eastern Echo to tell the stories of Washtenaw County residents that need to be heard.
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