Bill would create first-in-the-nation fund to address legacy of racist covenants

Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood has been home to Kiara Daniels’ family for decades.

“That was the only place in the city of Tacoma where Black people were allowed to live,” she said.

But when it came time to buy her own house, it was difficult.

“When I wanted to get a home what was truly traumatizing was how difficult it is to access home ownership,” she said.

Daniels earned a master’s degree in public administration and is now a city council member.

Even she found it challenging to navigate the maze of financing.

“It felt like it was beyond me. It felt like a mystery of how to just get it done,” Daniels said.

With guidance and hard work, she now owns a home in Hilltop.

But her experience highlights the problem homebuyers face without generational wealth to help with a down payment.

“That usually comes from your parents and if your parents don’t have access to that kind of wealth then you just can’t access these things,” she said.

One of the reasons is a legacy of racist practices like redlining that pushed people of color to certain neighborhoods, and covenants written into deeds that required specific properties only to be sold to white people.

The University of Washington is compiling a database of racially restrictive covenants that were federally outlawed in 1968.

So far, researchers found more than 40,000 properties.

“What we want to do is address that segregated housing,” said State Rep. Jamila Taylor (D-Federal Way), who sponsored a first-in-the-nation bill to help families held back by racist covenants.

“This bill will address that historical challenge and ensure we’re really bringing equity into our communities,” Taylor said.

The bill calls for a $100 recording fee when a property sells to go into a covenant homeownership account.

People who can prove they’re descended from first-time homebuyers who were discriminated against by covenants in Washington, or who were personally affected, can apply for a special loan to help with a down payment and closing costs.

A study would figure out details like income limits and how much money a homebuyer could access.

“Access to housing in this country has a gate and that gate is credit to purchase,” said Patience Malaba of the Housing Development Consortium.

She predicts a state fund taking in around $100 million per year could help a lot more people than special purpose loans now offered by banks and credit unions.

“This is groundbreaking legislation,” she said.

The bill passed the state House on March 2 and is now being considered by the Senate.

“We have the highest document recording fee in the nation right now,” State Rep. April Connors (R-Kennewick) said during the floor debate when opponents said the fee would make housing less affordable.

“There was a lot of racism back then, we need to stamp it out, we need to do what we can to do that,” said State Rep. Alex Ybarra (R-Quincy). “But I don’t think increasing the price of a home is the way to do it. I think getting some funds from the general fund would be a better way.”

For Tacoma Councilmember Kiara Daniels, the covenant fund is a way to address the racist real estate policies that held her family back from building wealth.

“In my community, in the Black community, we’re 200 years behind in wealth building so there’s really significant gaps in us accessing what folks call the American dream,” she said.