Knowing Our History

Knowing Our History

As agents, we need to be informed on many things — contracts, HOA rules, zoning codes, etc. But do we know our housing history? Understanding this history and sharing it with our clients can provide context to questions of gentrification, equitable lending, and zoning laws that attempt to address affordability.
To better illuminate the issue of equitable housing, we want to share some history about Seattle’s 1964 failed legislation, Proposition One, and the eventual passing of Ordinance 96619 in 1968 — both of which attempted to end housing discrimination in the city.
Seattle’s work to establish Fair Housing began in 1962 with Mayor Gordon Clinton’s establishment of the Citizen’s Advisory Committee on Minority Housing. This committee was the result of pressure from protests and sit-ins conducted by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Central District Youth Club to push for more progressive action, rather than simply continuing the “study” of Seattle’s persistent housing discrimination practices. The Seattle Human Rights Commission was formed in 1963 to draft Open Housing legislation (despite this mission, only two of its twelve members were Black, Rev. Sam McKinney and Rev. John Allen). Proposition One, the Seattle Open Housing Ordinance, was placed on the ballot for the March 1964 election; it was soundly voted down. Sadly, the Seattle Real Estate Board was responsible for one of the most influential opposition campaigns, circulating ads referencing restrictions of personal freedom and changing the name to “The Forced Housing Ordinance.”
Civic groups quickly continued the fight for Fair Housing despite Proposition One’s failure on the ballot. The Fair Housing Listing Service was formed by volunteers who found sellers willing to sell to any qualified buyers in areas of Seattle outside the Central District and in nearby suburban communities. In September 1964, the first 50 listings were published. Elliot N. Couden, a real estate agent at the Couden Agency, spoke in favor of Open Housing Laws at various neighborhood and church meetings. CORE continued its public demonstrations, and addressed the city directly:

“We are concerned that there has been no real communication between civil rights organizations and the real estate community in Seattle. It is because such a situation exists in Seattle that CORE has found it necessary to engage in direct action which has included picketing and sitting in Picture Floor Plan offices and developments to protest the discriminatory practices of that company in an attempt to end these practices in the sale or rental of houses.” -CORE to Mayor Braman, April 18, 1964 Seattle Office of the Mayor Records, Seattle Municipal Archives

The Open Housing legislation was finally passed on April 19, 1968 as Ordinance 96619. The chief architect of the legislation was Senator Sam Smith, the first Black person to serve on the Seattle City Council. Senator Smith was also the first Black person to serve as a member of the Washington State Legislature. Other cities across the nation were passing similar legislation as Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Federal Fair Housing Act in April of 1968.

Discrimination in housing and related industries like mortgage lending and property appraisal denies the very human right to live in the community of one’s choice. It additionally denies the ability to secure stable housing, to control personal housing costs, and thus all the advantages stemming from that: primarily the ability to gain equity in property, the most common avenue of building wealth in our society. As real estate agents, we have the capacity to influence social and civic policy. We can help expand access and opportunities to those groups who have historically been closed off from these basic pathways that lead to a prosperous and hopeful life.


Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project at UW

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