Skip to content

Segregated Seattle

How this project helped change state law

On April 23, 2023 the Washington legislature passed the Covenants Homeownership Account Act (HB 1474) that will provide compensation for victims of racial restrictive covenants. The law was based on research conducted by this project. Moreover it is the fourth law inspired by our data on racial restrictive covenants since the project started at the University of Washington almost twenty years ago. This page reports on the legislation enacted in 2006, 2019, 2021, and 2023

HB 1474 (2023)

HB 1474 AN ACT Relating to creating the covenant homeownership account 1and program to address the history of housing discrimination due to racially restrictive real estate covenants in Washington state.

The Covenants Homeownership Account Act was sponsored by 44 members of the House of Representatives and 14 members of the state Senate under the principle sponsorship of Rep. Jamila Taylor, Rep. Frank Chopp, and Senator John Lovick. A coalition of community groups led by the Black Home Initiative Network and the Housing Development Consortium promoted the bill. It passed with strong majorities in both houses due to huge outpouring of support including endorsements by the Washington Realtors and the Seattle Times. It is brilliantly written with a view to surviving lawsuits that in Washington, an anti-affirmative action state, would scuttle reparations or programs that are overtly race based.

Instead, the new law is “harm based.” It establishes in its first paragraphs that the state of Washington caused financial harm by authorizing and enforcing racial restrictive covenants through the delegation of authority to counties and courts. Then it targets compensation in the form of down-payment assistance to families that were excluded from equal housing opportunities in the years prior to the 1968 Fair Housing Act. Applicants must be first-time homebuyers with incomes at or below the area median. They must have been a Washington resident on or before 1968 or a descendant of someone who was. A still-to-be-appointed commission will work out the details but presumably Black, Asian, Indigenous, and Latinx families who meet the other criteria will be eligible for a no-interest down-payment loan. This is because restrictive covenants usually specified “whites only,” thereby excluding everyone else.

And the size and number of compensation awards will be substantial. Funding will come from a $100 Covenant Homeownership recording fee that will apply to all real estate transactions. The logic of this is that homeowners selling properties nowadays have benefitted from the wealth building opportunities that have been a biproduct of homeownership; opportunities denied to most families of color. This is a just and relatively painless tax that nevertheless is going to raise a lot money. Roughly $100 million will be available for loans each year which by one estimate means two to three thousand loans in the $30,000-50,000 each year.

These are numbers that should start to reverse the race disparities in homeownership. In the most recent census, 66% of white households in Washington owned homes against only 33% of Black households. In Seattle/King County where prices have soared out of sight, only 27% of Black families are homeowners.

HB 1335 (2021)

House Bill 1335 AN ACT Relating to review and property owner notification of recorded documents with unlawful racial restrictions (signed May 12, 2021)

Introduced by Representative Javier Valdez and signed by Governor Inslee on May 12, 2021, this bill expanded the implementation of HB 2514 which had previously established procedures for striking illegal deed restrictions by filing Restrictive Covenant Modifications. "It is the intent of the legislature that the owner, occupant, or tenant or homeowners' association board of the property which is subject to an unlawful deed restriction or covenant pursuant to RCW 49.60.224 is entitled to have discriminatory covenants and restrictions that are contrary to public policy struck from their chain of title."

HB 1335 allocated funds and authorized teams at the University of Washington and Eastern Washington University to "review existing recorded covenants and deed restrictions to identify those recorded documents that include racial or other restrictions on property ownership or use against protected classes that are unlawful under RCW 49.60.224. For properties subject to such racial and other unlawful restrictions, the universities shall provide notice to the property owner and to the county auditor of the county in which the property is located. The universities shall provide information to the property owner on how such provisions can be struck pursuant to RCW 49.60.227."

Since July 2021, the two teams have made impressive progress, conducting research in 21 counties and finding documents covering at least 50,000 properties. Nine undergraduate students and two graduate students have gained valuable experience and equally valuable income as researchers on the project. Volunteers are also helping to confirm restrictions and enter data. To date 826 volunteers have gone through the training and helped the project. Hundreds more have participated in workshops and presentations that we have offered to schools, churches, and workplaces.

HB 2514 (2018)

SHB 2514 AN ACT Relating to discriminatory provisions found in written instruments related to real property (signed March 15, 2018)

Effective January 1, 2019, this law (since modified by HB 1335) encouraged property owners to submit documentation that "strikes" any racially discriminatory language from property records. Proposed by State Representative Christine Kilduff, the law allowed a property owner to record a modification document that will provide notice in the land title records that the racially restrictive covenant is void and unenforceable. It will not delete the historic record. The modification document legally strikes, but does not physically erase, the void and illegal discriminatory provisions from the original document. As explained on this page, racial restrictions have been void and illegal since 1968.

SB 6169 (2006)

SESB 6169 -- AN ACT Relating to discriminatory provisions in the governing documents of homeowners' associations (signed March 15, 2006)

Shortly after the Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project published the initial version of our database of racial restrictive covenants in 2005, State Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles introduced and the legislature passed a law urging homeowners associations to expunge racist restrictions. This followed a sequence of publicity. First the Seattle Times picked up the story (“Homeowners find records still hold blot of racism” by Lornet Turnbull, June 3, 2005). Her article focused in particular on our reseach on the neighborhood of Innis Arden, an area governed by a Homeowners Association (HOA), where racist restrictions remained in the HOA bylaws because an insufficient number of residents were willing to take the necessary steps to remove them. The Seattle Times followed wih an editorial asking the state legislature to “authorize the courts to expunge racial covenants from all properties covered by homeowner associations.” (“An ugly stain of racism exposed”, June 6, 2005)

In early 2006, State Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles introduced and the legislature passed SESB 6169 which declared that

"The continued existence of these discriminatory covenants, conditions, or restrictions is contrary to public policy and repugnant to many property owners. It is the intent of this act to allow homeowners' associations to remove all remnants of discrimination from their governing documents."

The law lowered the threshold for approving by-law changes involving such provisions, empowering the Board of Directors to make the changes and requiring the Board to act. "Upon the board's receipt of a written request by a member of the association ... the board must, within a reasonable time, amend the governing documents, as provided under this section."

Innis Arden quickly amended its by-laws. It is not known how many other neighborhood associations have complied.