The Seattle Open House Campaign stretched from 1959, and officially ended on this day 50 years ago in 1968. The focus of the campaign was to strike down the legal right landlords held to discriminate against Blacks and other minorities in the city as the minority population grew at a record rate.
Prior to the decision, Seattle’s housing market shifted dramatically as Black and Asian families made their way to the Pacific Northwest for new opportunities. As a result, housing became a premium resource for many and landlords and home sellers essentially had the legal right to deny housing to anyone they pleased. In 1964, things became even more discriminatory when an open housing ordinance on the ballot was vetoed by voters.
With a radically changing racial and political climate, further impacted by the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., fair housing advocates, chiefly from the CORE organization, kept the pressure on the city’s government to allow Blacks and Asians access to the same housing afforded to whites. In 1967, the Seattle Urban League’s Operation Equality helped and that same year, Sam Smith became the first Black member of the Seattle City Council.
The council voted in favor of a “fair housing ordinance” in the wake of King’s death and the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which made fair housing federal law. The council drew up the ordinance in such a way that voters would not be able to overturn it, shifting the landscape of the city forever.
Over the years the ordinance has been bolstered to include sex, religion, orientation, and political ideology as unlawful means to ban fair housing. In 1999, gender identity was added to the ordinance.
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