Study: Former discriminatory housing practices contributed to ‘Wealth Gap’

Nov 16, 2022, 3:28 PM


The Link light rail has lifted property values in neighborhoods such as the Rainier Valley, but Spike O'Neill explains why it's now gentrifying the community. (Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

A new study shows that former discriminatory housing practices helped contribute to the ‘wealth gap’ across western Washington. In the past, thousands of local neighborhoods prevented “non-whites” from buying or renting homes. Many of those laws are still on the books today.

Graduate students from the University of Washington and Eastern Washington University are part of the study. So far, they have found 25,000 neighborhoods that had or have restrictive covenants or agreements. That could mean 40,000 homes or more.

Most of the agreements were put in place in the 1960s, but many are still in place although they are illegal to enforce.

“In the Arbor Heights neighborhood over in West Seattle, there’s a subdivision called Roxbury Heights.” Reading from the found agreement, Gee Scott of the Gee & Ursula Show said, “‘No person of any race other than white race shall use or occupy any building, or any lot, except this covenant shall not prevent occupancy, by domestic servants of a different race with an owner or tenant.”

“I live in a neighborhood that up until very, very recently, had all these restrictions,” Spike O’Neill, filling in for Ursula said. “You know, the NSR neighborhood of North Seattle was started by William Boeing, Bill Boeing bought this hillside to make a community for his his management folks from Boeing.

“NSR is an amazing community. It’s all built on a hillside. Every home has a view,” Spike continued. “It’s a wonderful place to live, but we had those restrictions.”

The duo pointed out why they were talking about this subject. “I’ll tell you what it has to do with today. It has to do with the ‘wealth gap’ that continues and why it happened,” Gee explained. “And why someone’s house, someone’s grandmother’s house is only worth this, but someone else’s grandmother’s house is worth that. How it also matters and how it applies today.”

Gee said his parents were prevented from living in the neighborhood they wanted to live in. He said the only way they could buy a house in a desirable neighborhood was to put the deed in another person’s name.

Spike pointed out that the problems are still happening today.

“Through the Rainier Valley, when the light rail went through the community from the airport to downtown, it was supposed to lift property values and it did,” Spike said. “The problem became the people who have lived in those neighborhoods for generations could no longer afford to live there.”

They said that’s why the ‘wealth gap’ continues to be a problem.

The students working on the study will continue until next summer. That’s when the money runs out.

They are hoping they’ll get another injection of funds from the state legislature.

Listen to Gee Scott and Ursula Reutin weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

Listen to KIRO Nights with Spike O’Neill weeknights from 7 – 10 p.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Study: Former discriminatory housing practices contributed to ‘Wealth Gap’