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Washington State adopts a race-based remedy for past housing discrimination
Using evidence of past discriminatory policy, a broad coalition wins a statewide remedy with bipartisan support
Over the last two years, 1,000 volunteers have identified over 50,000 house deeds in Washington State that include racially restrictive covenants, or clauses that prohibited non-white families from occupancy. In a state that thinks of itself as progressive, but where two-thirds of whites but only one-third of African Americans own homes, this blatant evidence of discrimination was alarming. Armed with this data connecting past discrimination to current disparities, a broad coalition succeeded in getting the legislature to adopt the Covenant Homeownership Act to provide home buying assistance to non-white households to redress the segregation and inequality that these deeds (often governmentally sponsored) and other public policies had created.
The state will finance the program with a $100 fee applied to every real estate transaction going forward, which is estimated to generate $100 million annually. This can provide up to $50,000 in down payment and closing cost assistance to as many as 2,500 non-white households every year.
In Just Action and this substack, we argue that we need race-specific remedies for the race-specific crimes our government committed in creating segregation. Some readers may fear that our current political climate makes passing these types of solutions impossible. Washington State’s efforts suggest otherwise.
The legislation, adopted in April, resulted from an extensive community engagement process that analyzed policy options for addressing the state’s racial homeownership gap and identified potential legislation and bill sponsors. The coalition supporting the resulting act included advocates for increasing homeownership access for African Americans, affordable housing developers and providers, local governments, public housing authorities, community land trusts, banks, law firms, chambers of commerce, and philanthropic foundations. Two thousand individuals signed in support and offered to testify to the legislature. The Washington Realtors endorsed the act, a notable fact since realtors don’t often support new fees applied to home purchases.
Because of this broad-based coalition and its advocacy, the new law passed with bipartisan support. It authorizes the state’s housing finance commission to create a Special Purpose Credit Program (SPCP), a financial product that can be targeted by race to address a documented racial inequity in access to credit. The authority to adopt an SPCP has been in effect since 1976 but banks and financial institutions have only recently begun using it to create race-based lending programs. Washington’s SPCP will be the first implemented by a state agency.
In order to justify the program, the state must study the role it played in creating racially discriminatory access to homeownership and design a program that benefits those who suffer the effects of that discrimination. The findings of this study will inform the details of the program, but the act authorizes providing assistance to anyone excluded from homeownership by racially-restrictive covenants who lived in the state prior to the Fair Housing Act’s passage in 1968 or is descended from someone who did.
Considering the Supreme Court’s refusal to sanction remedial programs targeted by race, including its recent end to affirmative action in college admissions, to move forward in remedying past racial discrimination, we must “dare to defy” the Court. As we argue in Just Action, this means implementing race-based solutions as remedies for past unconstitutional government actions, explicitly tying solutions and benefits to the racially-specific crimes of the past. Washington’s approach is worth watching and learning from.
For more information about the Covenant Homeownership Act:
Follow the state’s progress on implementing the act.
Read more about this and related legislation enacted in Washington since 2006.
Learn more about Special Purpose Credit Programs
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