Community Preference

For several years, community organizations requested that the City of Seattle Office of Housing (OH) and the Seattle Office for Civil Rights (SOCR) implement a community preference policy to help address displacement and advance racial equity. In February 2019, Mayor Durkan issued Executive Order 2019-02: Actions to Increase Affordability and Address Residential Displacement, which included a policy to allow community preference in high risk of displacement neighborhoods. The OH Administrative & Financial Plan further outlined the permissive community preference policy for City-funded rental and homeownership housing located in high risk of displacement areas that intends to affirmatively further fair housing, address displacement, and foster and sustain inclusive communities. Community preference allows housing developments to prioritize certain applicants when leasing or selling units in communities at high risk of displacement.


Seattle has a long history of colonialism, racial covenants,[1] and redlining. These government-supported practices and actions contributed to the restriction of Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color by defining where they could live and where they could purchase homes.[2] This history of segregation and displacement[3] has led to disparities in access to education, living wage employment, a healthy environment, affordable housing, and transportation,[4] particularly for Black and Indigenous communities. It has also allowed certain populations to obtain and build wealth and to access critical resources at the expense of others. Over time these factors have put pressure on or marginalized those same communities, displacing many to south Seattle or beyond.

The Central District's transformation over just 20 years provides a clear, recent example of the impacts of displacement and gentrification in Seattle. Racially restrictive covenants in north Seattle and redlining practices, through which banks provided subprime mortgages to Black residents in limited areas, created a concentration of Black residents and businesses in the Central District.[5],[6] In light of  these racist practices, which included both private and governmental action, the Central District provided one of the few places of belonging and home for many members of Seattle's Black community.[7]  

Yet as property values increased in the Central District, Black residents and businesses faced pressure to leave the neighborhood. Subprime mortgages led to foreclosures, residents and business owners lacked access to home repair and small business loans, and rents increased. Displacement pressures increasingly forced the community to move south and outside the city limits into Renton and other surrounding suburbs.[8],[9]  In 1990, "there were nearly three times as many Black as White residents in the area, but by 2000, the number of White residents surpassed the number of Blacks for the first time in 30 years."[10]  "[T]he collective social and economic toll is incalculable, and the personal stories of people losing their homes, small businesses and way of life are tragic."[11]  

The goals of the City's Community Preference Policy are to help address past and current displacement, which disproportionately and negatively impacted Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color, to help address racial inequities in housing by increasing affordable housing options, and to affirmatively further fair housing. The policy and guideline are consistent with the City's Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI) and Executive Order 2017-13: RSJI,[12] which confirms the City's commitment "to promoting inclusion and full participation of all residents and partnership with the community to achieve racial equity across Seattle."[13]  

By the late 2000s, the greater community began organizing in response to the displacement and gentrification occurring in the Central District and other surrounding neighborhoods. Members of what is now known as the Black Community Impact Alliance encouraged the City to sponsor a community preference policy, creating an opportunity for Black residents to return to the Central District.  

In 2015, other community-based organizations of color like Interim Community Development Association, Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority and El Centro del la Raza approached the City to seek advice and support for a community preference policy.  In September 2017, City Council issued Resolution 31769 seeking recommendations for a community preference policy for City-funded rental and homeownership housing projects. In late June 2018, the Race and Social Equity Taskforce (RSET) and the Equitable Development Initiative (EDI) Interim Advisory Board called on the City Council to support a community resident preference policy.[14]  

In February of 2019, Mayor Durkan issued Executive Order 2019-02: Actions to Increase Affordability and Address Residential Displacement. Outlined in the Seattle Office of Housing Administrative & Financial Plan is the permissive Community Preference policy for City-funded affordable housing projects located in 'high-risk of displacement areas.' In July 2020, the City issued the Community Preference Guideline that outlines recommended practices for sponsors who implement community preference policies. The City of Seattle is committed to advancing racial equity and affirmatively furthering fair housing to address past discriminatory policies and practices, including government actions. Implementing community preference may not reverse the racist actions taken against communities of color, but it may allow for more equitable housing practices moving forward. The policy may help families and individuals feeling the pressure of displacement to stay in their communities and provide an opportunity to those already displaced to return to the neighborhoods/communities they call home.

[1] Racial Restrictive Covenants - Neighborhood by neighborhood restrictions in King County, Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project, University of Washington (2014-2018), [2] Seattle 2035 - Growth and Equity Analysis (May 2016) file:///G:/Policy/EDI/Background/FinalGrowthandEquityAnalysis.pdf [3] Id. Displacement is defined as the involuntary relocation of current residents or businesses from their current residence. Displacement can occur as physical, i.e. eviction, as economic, i.e. lack of affordability, and/or as cultural, i.e. cultural spaces no longer exist in the area.  [4] Id. [5] Rothstein, Richard. The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America. Liveright Publications, 2017. p.80. "W.E. Boeing [and other builders] developed suburbs north of Seattle and included racially restrictive language into their deeds.  The result was an African-American population was encircled by all-white suburbs." [6] Redlining and Divestment in Central Seattle: How the Banks are Destroying our Neighborhoods a report by the Central Seattle Community Council Federation (July 1975) [7] Ishisaka, Naomi. Seattle Magazine (April 2018). "Inye Wokoma's Last Stand: One Man's Fight to Save Seattle's Central District." [8] A Central Vision (2018) by Inye Wokoma and Office of Planning and Community Development [9] Id. [10] McGee, Henry. Seattle's Central District, 1990-2006: Integration or Displacement. Urban Lawyer Vol. 39 p.2. (2007) [11] Zahilay, Girmay. Seattle Times (Feb. 17, 2020). "We Failed the Central District, but We Must Do Right by Skyway." [12] Executive Order 2017-13: Race and Social Justice Initiative. [13] Id. [14] Bicknell, Natalie. The Urbanist (July 23, 2018). "Community Resident Preference Policy and the Fight Against Displacement in Seattle."


If you are an affordable housing developer and considering implementing a community preference policy or if you are a community/housing advocate and want to learn how a preference policy might work please read our guideline.  

Community Preference Guideline

Affordable housing developers can submit their community preference plan to the Office of Housing using this template document below.  Developers should submit their preference policy plan along with their management plan.

Community Preference Plan Template

Recommended list of Documentation for Preference Applicants

A community preference policy can be implemented in high-risk of displacement areas within the highlighted census tracts.

Downloadable Geographic Boundary Map and Census Tract List


Maiko Winkler-Chin, Director
Address: 700 5th Ave, Suite 5700, Seattle, WA, 98104
Mailing Address: PO Box 94725, Seattle, WA , 98124-4725
Phone: (206) 684-0721
Fax: (206) 233-7117

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