Homebuyers whose families were once barred from living in many Seattle neighborhoods could soon qualify for new down-payment assistance as the state attempts to address the legacies of housing discrimination.
The Washington State Senate on Friday passed House Bill 1474, which would create new down-payment and closing cost assistance for Washingtonians who were once affected by racially restrictive covenants or who are the descendants of those affected.
The covenants, common across the U.S., often limited properties to white people only or specifically excluded Black, Asian or Jewish residents. A 1948 U.S. Supreme Court ruling rendered the covenants unenforceable, but they remained on the books and continued to shape housing segregation. Local researchers have found thousands of the covenants in Washington.
Supporters say the bill addresses one factor that has contributed to the gap between Black and white homeownership. In Washington, 68% of white families own homes compared to 35% of Black families, according to a National Association of Realtors analysis released last month.
“This legislation is about justice,” said Sen. John Lovick, D-Mill Creek, during Friday’s vote. “My hope is if we pass this legislation, we bend the arc of the moral universe … one stubborn inch closer to justice.”
Loans to help pay for down payments and closing costs would be funded by a new $100 fee charged when documents such as mortgages are recorded with county auditors.
The Senate vote sends the bill back to the House for a vote to concur with the final language and then to Gov. Jay Inslee’s desk. If the governor signs it, the fee would take effect in January, and loans would be available next July.
To qualify, first-time homebuyers must have been either a Washington resident before the federal Fair Housing Act outlawed housing discrimination in 1968 or be the descendant of someone who was. Qualifying homebuyers will need to make 100% of area median income or less, about $107,000 for a family of three in King County. Recipients would repay the loans when they sold their homes. The state has yet to determine how much each homebuyer could receive.
The state expects the new fee to generate about $99 million per year, though document recording fee revenue can be volatile as the housing market swings.
The bill passed on a party-line vote in the Senate, with Republicans voting “no.”
An unsuccessful proposal from the Senate Ways & Means committee would have reduced the fee to $50. Senators also rejected a Republican-backed amendment that would have allowed people to apply to the new program for only five years.
Because the bill benefits descendants, “it could go on for hundreds of years,” said Sen. Phil Fortunato, R-Auburn, who sponsored the amendment. Supporters countered that the harms of the covenants were long-lasting.
“It’s going to take some time for us to actually provide the redress and the opportunity that this bill offers,” said Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue.