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(The Center Square) – At a Monday afternoon press conference from the state capital, Rep. Jamila Taylor, D-Federal Way, explained the need for first-in-the-nation legislation she introduced in the House of Representatives that addresses the history of housing discrimination in Washington state.

Funded by a $100 document recording assessment, 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 Dec. 31 – as impacted by restrictive real estate laws. Participants must be first-time homebuyers with income limitations.

“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 HB 1474 states.

“I am so thankful for this multi-racial and community-driven coalition that has held our feet to the fire to support the community,” Taylor said at a press conference held after HB 1474 had a public hearing before the House Housing Committee earlier in the day. “To support the community that wants to be stable, wants to be thriving, wants to continue to be a part of the inclusive economic fabric of Washington state.”

She addressed crafting the legislation so that it would not run afoul of Initiative 200, passed by voters in November 1998, that effectively curtails any form of affirmative action in Washington.

“I know the thinking that we had was around a tort claim,” she said. “Imagine a specific and intentional and targeted harms that were towards communities and the things, remedies are specific tailored toward those who were impacted. So this is why the eligibility criteria talks about individuals who were residents of the time before 1968 when the racial covenants were in effect and that they were enforceable.”

As for people who may not like a $100 fee for a program they think doesn’t impact them, Taylor was both philosophical and pragmatic.

“There’s always someone who’s going to say something when they don’t see it in their community; it doesn’t affect them,” she said. “But it does affect them. It affects who your neighbors are. It affects the fact that we want to have an inclusive economy where I can move into a neighborhood of choice.”

She continued, “But we’ve seen the compounding of all of these practices, policies, and laws have led to where we are right now, and we are not making traction. And we as a state can remedy harms.”

Others at the press conference backed up that assessment.

“I don’t know anybody that would say it’s acceptable that black families as a percent are fewer than half that have home ownership than white families,” Lt. Gov. Denny Heck said. “I don’t know anybody that would resent that document recording fee, given that the average net worth of a black family is one-eighth of a white family. I don’t know anybody that would answer that way.”

Rep. Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, put it more succinctly.

“I just know that nearly everybody in our state believes it the American dream, and that’s what this is about,” he said. “It’s about homeownership for everyone.”

HB 1474 is scheduled for executive session in the House Housing Committee at 8 a.m. on Thursday.

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.