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:
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.