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Seattle Municipal Archives Feature: Open Housing in Seattle

Open Housing in Seattle

Fair Housing Month is celebrated across the country in April.  Designated by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, it marks the date of April 11, 1968, when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968.  The Act expanded previous legislation and prohibited discrimination concerning the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin, and sex. Title VIII of the Act is also known as the Fair Housing Act (of 1968). 

The City of Seattle also passed its Fair Housing ordinance in April 1968 after a 10-year battle.  The hard fought struggle for that legislation is told in an online exhibit on the Seattle Municipal Archives website

In 1975, the legislation was broadened to include additional categories of discrimination including:  sex, marital status, sexual orientation and political ideology.  The Seattle Women’s Commission introduced proposed amendments in 1973 but it took almost two years before the amendments passed.  The Seattle Human Rights Commission, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Seattle Atlantic Street Center were among the groups that supported adding the additional categories, while apartment owners and real estate agents were among those who opposed the amendment.   Jeanette Williams, as chair of the Human Resources and Judiciary Committee, shepherded the legislation through.  The Mayor signed it in August, after it passed narrowly in City Council, by a 5-4 vote.

The Open Housing ordinance was amended again in 1979 to prohibit discrimination based on age and parental status.  After the amendment was introduced by the Housing and Urban Development Committee, President of the Apartment Operators Association, Inc., Donald Haas, sent a letter to members of City Council stating his opposition.  On May 2, 1979, he wrote, “Many owners are telling me that they will withdraw their vacancies from the open rental market before letting them be wrecked by irresponsible teenagers and undisciplined children.”  Seattle’s Department of Human Resources pointed out to Councilmember Michael Hildt, Chair of the Committee, on April 4, 1979, “The proposed amendment to the Fair Housing Ordinance will not change the housing shortage in Seattle….but letting the elderly compete on an equal basis with others for housing they can afford will be of the utmost significance in allowing them to function independently as long as possible.”

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In 1985, Jeanette Williams, then chair of the City Operations Committee, introduced proposed amendments to the fair housing ordinance that would include creed and disability.  Representatives of the Rental Housing Operators (RHO) of Seattle wrote to express their disapproval.  “The requirement of remodeling existing housing so that a handicapped person may live anywhere is an unreasonable burden placed on private landowners,” wrote R. Drake Bozath and John Misner, representing RHO.  The amendment passed in 1986.

 

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In 1999, the open housing legislation was broadened to include gender identity.  Seattle joins in the rest of the nation in celebrating Open Housing Month.

Resources used: Jeannette Williams Subject Files, Series ID 4693-02, Boxes 55-57, Seattle Municipal Archives

http://www.seattle.gov/cityarchives/