KC Council will consider reparations over historic redlining

Race-based restrictive real estate practices estimated to have prevented billions in wealth.

King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles recently introduced a motion requesting the county executive to provide recommendations to restore “justice for race-based restrictive real estate practices, building on a previous, comprehensive report on the impacts of historic redlining across King County for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC).”

The motion is based on the premise that redlining practices and restrictive policies prevented BIPOC residents from accumulating wealth and assets through homeownership.

The Dept. Of Justice defines redlining as “an illegal practice in which lenders avoid providing services to individuals living in communities of color because of the race or national origin of the people who live in those communities.”

A previous report from the county estimates that, because of race-based restrictive real estate practices, BIPOC county residents lost intergenerational wealth estimated to be valued between $12 billion and $34 billion.

The report specifically explored whether an exemption from King County’s wastewater capacity charge could provide restitution for those impacted by racial deed restrictions; however, that exemption was not recommended due to federal and state legal limitations.

“The report from earlier this year quantified the impact of an issue that has shaped the very way that our county developed,” Kohl-Welles said in a statement. “If we know that the wastewater exemption is not an avenue for restitution, this new motion asks the question, ‘Well, what could we do?’ That’s the question to which our BIPOC communities deserve an answer.”

Kohl-Welles’ motion would aim to build on that report and look for other ways to atone for the harm done by redlining and other structural racist policies and practices. Some policies explored by other local jurisdictions include direct cash payments, housing assistance, education assistance or job training, land return, and startup capital, among others.

“In local government, there are always a million competing priorities, and the next several years will be no different with the revenue shortfall and budget cuts that have been projected,” Kohl-Welles said. “This report will ensure that we have potential strategies to charter a more equitable and restorative future. And, in the meantime, I hope that keeping this work at the forefront will minimize harm to communities that have been underinvested in for decades.”

In the context of looming cuts to the County budget, the motion also urges the Executive to consider general fund budget reduction proposals for the 2025 annual budget that minimize the loss of intergenerational wealth, eviction rates, low Black homeownership rates, and general financial insecurity for BIPOC county residents.

The motion will be heard in an upcoming meeting of the Committee of the Whole.