Racial Discrimination

Like most cities in the US, Seattle has a long history of racial discrimination and residential segregation, fostered in large measure by generations of homeownership and housing issues, actions and policies that date to the early 20th century.

Redlining Shaped Seattle’s Neighborhoods

At the highest level, the city’s history of racial discrimination and residential segregation can be traced to New Deal programs of the 1930s. Developed at the time to address growing foreclosures and economic calamity stemming from the Great Depression, those programs would go on to create mortgage insurance and guarantees, along with other reforms, to entice banks to begin lending again.12 But those insurances and guarantees were centered on a series of community assessments—tracked on maps that were color-coded from green to red, and labeled from “best” to “hazardous”— that were used by banks and other housing professionals to deem communities safe to lend and worthy of investments.

“Mapping Inequality: Redlining in New Deal America,” Seattle Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) “Residential Security” Map of Seattle (January 1936).

As with many other cities, the neighborhoods in Seattle that were deemed the “best” or “good” communities—noted in green or blue on these community assessment maps—were places like Queen Anne Hill, where mostly affluent and White households lived. Those noted in red and deemed “hazardous” were places where communities of color and Jewish communities were more likely to be living. These redlining maps and the lending discrimination that stemmed from them would go on to be enforced by racially-restrictive covenants that prohibited homeowners from selling or renting their homes to people of color—in particular, Black residents.

Today, researchers at the University of Washington’s Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project have found more than 500 racially-restrictive deeds and covenants, including 87 in Seattle at the King County Recorder’s Office and County Archives.13 They estimate these restrictive deeds and covenants cover more than 20,000 properties in Seattle and the surrounding areas.14 The result of such expansive discrimination denied countless communities of color in Seattle the ability to own a home—the largest wealth-generating

12 “The History of Redlining in Seattle,” KCTS9, YouTube, November 20, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mBQE5rrWDfA&ab_channel=KCTS9
13 “Racial Restrictive Covenants: Neighborhood by neighborhood restrictions across King County,” The Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project, University of Washington, https://depts. washington.edu/civilr/covenants.htm
14 Ibid.

6 For more information, visit www.prosperitynow.org

The Racial Wealth Divide in Seattle

asset for most households. This unfortunate reality can be seen in the wide gap in homeownership between communities of color and White households, where less than 45% of Asian, Latinx, Black and Native American residents are homeowners today. By contrast, nearly 51% of White residents are homeowners in Seattle. Ultimately, these actions blocked many people of color from building wealth. They also led to neighborhoods like the International District and the Central District, and other neighborhoods south of Seattle, to become cultural hubs for Black, Asian and other communities of color in Seattle.

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