Fair Housing Month

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Seattle Municipal Archives Feature

President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Right Acts of 1968 on April 11, 1968; Title VIII of the Act is also known as the Fair Housing Act of 1968. April is known as Fair Housing Month for this reason.

In Seattle, until 1968, it was legal to discriminate against minorities in Seattle when renting apartments or selling real estate. The task of securing legislation to prohibit discrimination in housing began in the late 1950s. It turned out to be a decade-long struggle.

Restrictive covenants was one method used to keep black families, and often other minorities, out of white neighborhoods in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In 1961 the Seattle branch of the NAACP requested an ordinance prohibiting discrimination in housing. Public hearings, an Advisory Committee on Minority housing, marches and protests helped put the issue on the ballot in 1964. Voters turned the open housing ordinance down in an overwhelming 2 to 1 vote.

A large, sign-carrying crowd stood peacefully in the Fifth Avenue Plaza at City Hall on July 1, 1963, during a demonstration in support of an open-housing ordinance. Courtesy: Bruce McKim/Seattle Times

On April 19, 1968, three weeks after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the City Council unanimously passed Ordinance 96619 "defining and prohibiting unfair housing practices in the sale and offering for sale and in the rental and offering for rent and in the financing of housing accommodations, and defining offenses and prescribing penalties, and declaring an emergency therefore." The ordinance had been sponsored by six of the nine Council members, but the chief architect was first term council member Sam Smith, the first African American to sit on the Council. Smith had previously been a tireless advocate for open housing and fair employment while serving as the first African American member of the Washington State Legislature. The ordinance was signed by the Mayor the same day.

Mrs. Pearl Warren, director of the Indian Center, addressed City Council during a hearing on the open housing ordinance, April 19, 1968. The ordinance passed unanimously. Council members were seated at right, and about 200 persons were in the Council Chambers. Courtesy: Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times

The open housing legislation passed in 1968 was amended in 1975 to include prohibitions against discrimination based on sex, marital status, sexual orientation, and political ideology; and in 1979 to include age and parental status. In 1986, creed, and disability were added as prohibitions on discrimination and in 1999 gender identify was added. Seattle continues to develop strategies to address more covert forms of discrimination in housing today.

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