FILE - Texas Real Estate

In this March 15, 2021 file photo, a sold sign stands in front of new home under construction in Houston. 

(The Center Square) – Supporters of first-in-the-nation legislation to address the history of housing discrimination in Washington state made their case at a Friday morning hybrid in-person/remote public hearing before the Senate Housing Committee.

Funded by a $100 document recording assessment, Second Substitute House Bill 1474 would establish a covenant homeownership account and program to provide down payment and closing cost assistance to people identified in an initial Covenant Homeownership Program study – to be completed by March 1, 2024 and every five years thereafter – as impacted by restrictive real estate laws. Participants in the program must be first-time homebuyers with income limitations.

On March 2, the bill passed the House of Representatives by a 53-43 vote. 

According to a preliminary fiscal note, the bill would generate an estimated $148.5 million this biennium to the Department of Commerce and $198 million ongoing, committee staff member Riley Benge said.

“It’s an important bill for our community,” said Rep. Jamila Taylor, D-Federal Way, the bill’s prime sponsor, going on to note “home ownership is an economic cornerstone of American society.”

Home ownership is an option that has not always been available to everyone, she said.

“Restrictive real estate covenants prohibiting people of certain races, religions, and ethnicities from buying or owning homes were recorded across Washington state until 1968, when the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) prohibited real estate covenants that discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin, and 1969, when the Washington Law Against Discrimination provided that these types of covenants are void and have no legal effect,” a House analysis of the original HB 1474 states.

SSHB 1474 would be a step in the right direction to making things right, according to Taylor.

“The bill addresses the decades of direct harm inflicted by our state on our Washington residents,” she said, pointing out that state-sanctioned housing discrimination was a reality for many people who are still alive.

Patience Malaba of the Housing Development Consortium of Seattle-King County used a housing metaphor to make her point in supporting the bill.

“Home ownership is the entry into the American dream and the gateway to intergenerational wealth,” she told the committee. “However, home ownership in this country has a gate and that gate is credit to purchase.”

Referencing systemic barriers to credit for minorities by pointing out that currently 31% of blacks in Washington own homes as compared to 68% of whites, she said the bill “widens the gate.”

Shaun Scott of the Statewide Poverty Action Network expressed similar sentiments in addressing the committee.

“We believe that House Bill 1474 really gives this body a chance to right these wrongs by imposing a fee and directing the resulting revenue into a housing stability fund for black and brown Washingtonians, and we urge strong support for 1474 as a result,” he said.

Nathan Gorton, government affairs director for Washington Realtors, championed the bill on behalf of himself and the organization he represents. 

“It’s not often that I come before this committee and agree on a bill that increases costs around the home ownership transaction, but we’re here today in full support of this bill,” he said.

It's appropriate for the Legislature to look at “historical barriers that have been put in place that have prevented home ownership,” Gorton added.

The bill is scheduled for executive session before the Senate Housing Committee at 1:30 p.m. on March 22.

Staff Reporter

Brett Davis reports on Washington state government for The Center Square. He previously worked for public policy organizations the Freedom Foundation and Washington Farm Bureau, as well as various community newspapers.