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New WA program aims to help first-time homebuyers who faced discrimination

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(The Center Square) – On Monday, Washington launched a new program aimed at offering home buying assistance to minorities who faced housing discrimination or were born into families impacted by racially restrictive covenants of the past.

The Covenant Homeownership Program allows qualified homebuyers to apply through their lenders for zero-interest loans to help fund down payments and closing costs.

The loans are funded by fees on real estate documents that are recorded with the state.

Bill sponsor Rep. Jamila Taylor, D-Federal Way, told fellow lawmakers during a 2023 House Housing Committee hearing on the legislation behind the program, House Bill 1474, that owning a home is part of the American dream.

“It is unmistakable that racially restrictive covenants were essential in a concerted effort to discriminate against black, indigenous, Asian, Jewish and other marginalized residents of Washington state,” she said. “The result of these laws have had a multi-generational impact, and this bill addresses the decades of harm on Washington residents.”

Discriminatory real estate covenants were recorded across the Evergreen State until 1968, when the federal Fair Housing Act prohibited such real estate covenants. In 1969, the Washington Law Against Discrimination rendered such covenants void and legally ineffective.

Republicans did not support the legislation, citing concerns about the cost of the fee funding the program.

“I’m worried as we very incrementally keep increasing the cost of things like the document recording fee … that we just keep increasing the cost of housing,” said Rep. April Connors, R-Kennewick, a real estate agent, before the vote.

Researchers from the University of Washington and Eastern Washington University put together a list of properties once covered by racial covenants, finding tens of thousands of such documents.

The number of potential homebuyers who may qualify for the program could far exceed the fund.

A similar program in California called the California Dream For All Program depleted its approximately $300 million in funding within the first 11 days of accepting applications.

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