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New reports find Washington homeownership disparities are worse now than when housing discrimination was legal

The Washington State Department of Commerce

A new report said racial disparities in home ownership in Washington are worse now than when housing discrimination was legal.

The report was funded by the legislature and was authored by a diverse group of people with housing expertise and lived experience.

Corina Grigoras, the assistant director of Housing at the Washington Department of Commerce, said she wasn’t surprised to see disparities. But she was alarmed that they appear to be getting worse, and are spread across income brackets.

“You see this disparity at every income level,” she said, “So it doesn't matter that the household is low-income, or they are way above the median income, you still see this disparity in Black households having much lower rates of homeownership than their white counterparts.”

The counties with the largest home ownership gaps include Mason, San Juan, Okanogan and Whitman Counties. Spokane, Benton and Franklin counties also have significant disparities.

The reasons behind the disparity are varied, including unequitable access to education and living wage jobs. In Spokane, the placement of Interstate 90 is also likely a factor. The highway was built through Spokane’s historically Black neighborhood, displacing many homeowners of color. Highways, or urban renewal projects targeting Black neighborhood, led to loss of Black wealth and stability across the country.

Another factor noted in the report is that children of people who own houses, are more likely to be able to afford to buy houses themselves. While redlining, and other types of housing discrimination is no longer legal, the legacy of those policies can still be felt in many communities today.

The report’s authors recommend the state fund a swath of programs aimed at removing barriers to homeownership, such as increasing down payment support, and the supply of affordable housing.

The recommendations include

  • Providing planning assistance to local governments to increase affordable homes
  • Make current homeownership programs more flexible
  • Increase funding for homeownership programs
  • Create incentives for current homeowners to accept offers that include down payment assistance.
  • Fund culturally specific organizations to do homeownership program outreach.

The group’sfull list of recommendations is available on the Washington Department of Commerce website.