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WA House Approves Racial Covenants/Housing Bill

Courtesy of University of Washington

The Washington House approved a bill Thursday aimed at informing homeowners that their property deeds may include racially-discriminatory restrictions.

The 97-to-one vote comes less than two weeks after a related state appeals court ruling in a Spokane case.Rep. Javier Valdez [D-Seattle] wants people to know if they live in houses and neighborhoods that were once off-limits to different ethnic and racial groups “because I think if they knew that these restrictions existed in their documents, even though they’re not enforceable, they would want to do something about it.”

His bill creates a grant program to pay researchers at Eastern Washington University and the University of Washington to review existing deeds and covenants around the state for discriminatory language.

“They have both expressed strong interest in doing this work to go through all these documents and provide notification to homeowners so the homeowners actually can know that these words exist in their documents and can do something about it to have it removed," Valdez said.

But just how much can be removed is still an open question. A Spokane man, Alex May, found discriminatory language in his home’s legal papers and tried to have it stricken. The county said it didn’t have the authority to destroy documents and remove the offending language. May sued. He lost at the trial court level and about two weeks ago, a state appeals court upheld that ruling.

Spokane historian Logan Camporeale has found and researched some of the city’s restrictive covenants. He spoke last month during a hearing for the bill before the House Appropriations Committee.

“Notifying property owners like Mr. May of racist covenants associated with their properties is important work. However, I’m concerned that the road block Mr. May encountered will prevent any large scale removal of the covenants, even if property owner notification is successful," he said.

The bill now moves to the state Senate.


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