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New fee, loans aim to right ‘historic wrong’ of racist covenants in Washington state



SEATTLE — Members of communities once prohibited from buying homes under racist homeowner agreements, will soon get state homebuying assistance. 

The law signed last week by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee establishes a new $100 processing fee for homebuyers. The funds raised will help some first-time homebuyers cover down payments and closing costs.

”This implements one of many solutions to right a historic wrong,” Inslee said moments before signing House Bill 1474

For decades in the 1900s developers were allowed to restrict neighborhoods to only white residents. 

Tens of thousands of racially restrictive covenants contained phrasing like, “No person other than one of the white or Caucasian race shall be permitted to occupy any property.” 

University of Washington History Professor James Gregory heads up a research project on the covenants. He estimates researchers at the UW and Eastern Washington University have identified more than 50,000 covenants across the state covering hundreds of neighborhoods.

“With more to come,” Gregory said.

The practice was outlawed in 1968, but state legislators behind the law said the impact is still being felt today by the descendants of those shut out of neighborhoods, unable to enjoy the same generational wealth as those whose parents and grandparents bought homes when the restrictions were legal. 

”You may not have heard, but this is the first in the nation statewide reparations bill,” said Rep. Jamila Taylor, (D) Federal Way. 

The amount of the loans has not been determined yet, said Taylor, but she said thousands of homeowners should benefit from the estimated $150 million raised by the new fee every year. 

To qualify for the loans, a homebuyer must have lived in the state of Washington before 1968. Their descendants also qualify. The applicants must represent a community barred from home ownership at the time. 

The loans are not a gift, said Taylor, they must be paid back to the state upon the sale of the home. 

Seattle’s LeChelle Lucas, and her two children, Evan and Kennedy, all qualify for the new loan. 

”It finally puts me in the game,” said Lucas, who was homeless when she was pregnant with Kennedy seven years ago. 

”My dad’s side of the family moved up here in 1963, so they experienced things I wouldn’t, I don’t think I’d be able to take,” Lucas said.

Lucas’ family is about to buy a home in West Seattle through Habitat for Humanity Seattle-King County. 

”Owning a home is everybody’s dream,” Lucas said. “As a single mother, a Black mother to two beautiful children? I feel like this is what I’m supposed to do.”

She just wishes her grandparents were alive to see it. 

”I wish that they could hear that at least Washington state is taking that step in the right direction, and your great-grandkids, they won’t go through what you went through,” Lucas said.

WATCH: KING 5’s Facing Race playlist on YouTube

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