February 21, 2019

Municipalities have an obligation to use policy, practice, and procedure to advance racial equity and undo the inequities baked into the law. Here are several ordinances that cities have passed with the express understanding of the racial inequities they are designed to address, ranging across the housing, employment, policing and zoning areas.


Seattle: Fair Chance Hiring

Passed in 2013 by the City Council, the City of Seattle’s fair chance employment ordinance was an important step to address barriers to employment faced by those returning from incarceration, or those who had already returned after a number of years. The ordinance was designed to address the disparities in re-entry due to racial disparities in sentencing and time served. In particular, the ordinance restricts how employers in Seattle can use conviction and arrest records during the hiring process, and during employment to make decisions. The law prohibited categorical exclusions in job ads, limited criminal history questions on job applications and criminal background checks until after the initial hiring screening, requires employers to have a legitimate business reason to deny a job based on a criminal record, requires the employer to provide an opportunity for the applicant to explain or correct the information on their record. The only exceptions to these regulations are for jobs with unsupervised access to children under 16, individuals with developmental disabilities, or vulnerable adults. In 2016, the law became known as the Fair Chance Employment (FCE) ordinance.

Seattle: Fair Chance Housing

As a follow up to its fair chance employment ordinance, Seattle City Council passed a fair chance housing ordinance in 2017 that prevents housing providers from unfairly denying applicants for housing and evicting tenants based on a criminal record. Like the Fair Chance Employment ordinance, the goal of the housing law is to address bias against people who have finished serving their time and yet still face barriers to accessing stable housing. These biases disproportionately impact people of color, specifically Black and indigenous communities. The ordinance prevents housing providers from evicting tenants or denying an applicant based on a criminal record and prohibits the automatic or categorical exclusion of people with arrest or conviction records in housing advertisements.

washington, d.c.

WASHINGTON, D.C.: Decriminalizing Fare Evasion

In 2018, the Washington, D.C. City Council passed legislation to remove criminal penalties for individuals unable to pay the Metro or bus fare in the WMATA (Washington Metro Area Transit Authority) system in Washington, D.C. The goal of the new law was to take a step towards addressing disproportionate policing of Black residents in the transit system, often escalating from minor penalties to larger impacts like incarceration. While fare evasion still yields a fine, residents can no longer receive jail time for evading the Metro or bus fare, or for other actions like eating or drinking on the Metro.


Albany: Police Officer Information Ordinance

Albany Common Council of Albany, NY passed an ordinance in September 2017 that required police officers to present a business card with identifying information when stopping residents, as well as information for the city’s Citizens’ Police Review Board, an independent body that handles police misconduct complaints. While the police initiated this practice prior to the ordinance being introduced by Councilmember Dorcey Applyrs, codification in law will allow the process to continue regardless of any change in leadership.


Minneapolis: Eliminating Single Family Zoning

In August 2018, Minneapolis City Council passed Minneapolis 2040, a comprehensive plan to permit three-family homes and expand high-density building to address a long history of segregation and abolish restrictive zoning. One goal of this effort is to remove the barrier that existing single-family zoning codes present to Black residents and other residents of color trying to move into certain neighborhoods. Zoning laws have functioned in this capacity since the Supreme Court struck down race-based zoning. In effect, these laws perpetuate segregation by permitting suburbs to ban apartment buildings.


Nashville: Creating Transparency for Surveillance Technologies

In June 2017, Nashville City Council passed an ordinance to create procedures for new surveillance technologies to be reviewed before their deployment. The legislation requires approval by both public meeting and council resolution for law enforcement to install new or significantly expanded surveillance technology, enter into new contracts around surveillance data, or receive funds for surveillance technology. The goals of this policy are to address privacy issues, lack of information about surveillance agreements, including non-disclosure agreements with technology companies or the federal government, as well as the disproportionate impact of surveillance on communities of color.


Albuquerque: Recognizing Tribal Sovereignty

Albuquerque City Council unanimously passed an ordinance in early 2019 that recognized tribal sovereignty and self-determination for tribal governments. The ordinance also required the city to establish a government-to-government relationship with surrounding Tribal governments and pueblos; required the city to consult with federally recognized Tribes on decisions impacting them and to assess these impacts; and designated seats on the Commission on American Indian and Alaska Native Affairs to be appointed by the six local Tribes or chapters.