California's Reparation Taskforce tackles racial wealth gap

"...we might actually be able to see some real tangible change."
SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The California's first-in-the-nation Reparations Task Force convened for the fourth month since the group started meeting in June. The group is charged with recommending how California will issue a formal apology, how to eliminate discrimination in existing state laws, and determine how any potential compensation should be calculated for the descendants of enslaved persons in the U.S. and who would be eligible.

Up for discussion during this month's hearings were contemporary harms to Black Americans such as housing and education segregation, racism in banking and the racial wealth gap.

RELATED: Black California couple lowballed by $500K in home appraisal, believe race was a factor
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The Austin family sunk $400,000 into renovating their home, but were stunned when they barely gained any value during the appraisal process. When they had a white woman pose as the homeowner, that all changed.



A key piece of testimony during Wednesday's hearing came from an ABC7 News story.

We first introduced viewers to Marin City native Paul Austin and his wife Tenisha in February.

The Austin's had the value of their home jump $493,000 after they had a White friend stand in for them during an appraisal and act as if the home was hers.

RELATED: Bay Area Black, Latina real estate couple lowballed $250K in home appraisal

The Austin's told ABC7 News they believe their home was valued for less because they are Black and they are now hoping that experience will inspire change across the state.

The nine-member task force created through the passage of AB 3121 last year heard a number of expert and personal testimonies Wednesday.

"You call it reparations, we call it justice," said Lawrence Lucas, president emeritus of the USDA Coalition of Minority Employees and advocate for Black famers.

RELATED: Black East Oakland homeowner beats system after lowballed $155K in appraisal

According to the Federal Reserve, Black households have an average net worth of $24,000 compared to $188,000 for White families--nearly eight times as much in 2019.

"We're looking at these policies of the past, but also looking at policies today and Black Americans who are facing discriminatory policies," said Kamilah Moore, chairperson of the reparations task force.

"The reason why I was asked to testify, me and my wife Tenisha, is because our story about our home went viral," said Paul Austin before the task force.

RELATED: West Oakland family beats low appraisal by $70,000 after help from ABC7 News

Austin is convinced now as he was when he first shared his story with ABC7 News that race was a factor, as are six other families who have come forward to share their stories of alleged appraisal discrimination with ABC7 News race and culture reporter Julian Glover.

Glover: "Nine months since your story went viral, what does it mean to you to be speaking before the California Reparations Task Force?"

Austin: "It's such an honor. But what's most important, I think, is we might actually be able to see some real tangible change."

"We commend you and your family for stepping forward," said task force member and Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer.

RELATED: Single father in Oakland fights home appraisal he considered low, new appraisal came in $150K higher

Austin's personal testimony of how a biased system nearly forced his family to miss out on half a million dollars in equity during the home appraisal process was corroborated by several expert witnesses.

"This is a Jim Crow credit and capital system that is separate and unequal," said Mehrsa Baradaran, UCI Law professor.

The expert and personal testimony is being taken into account as the task force decides what reparations might look like.

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An Oakland homeowner almost lost out on more than $400,000 in equity thanks to an appraisal she thought was too low.



Expert witness Thomas Craemer, professor of public policy at UCONN, estimates reparations for the descendants of enslaved Africans should range from $18.6 trillion to $6.2 quadrillion depending on if 3% or 6% interest is applied.

Craemer said the trillion dollar number would equate to approximately $406,000 for each Black non-Hispanic person in the U.S.

It's important to note, per Craemer's calculations, this amount would only account for the estimated lost wages due to U.S. slavery and does not factor in lost income due to discrimination post-slavery, lost freedom, nor past and current pain and suffering.

The task force will convene for six more meetings over the next year and a half to determine the scope of reparations and what it might look like for California's descendants of enslaved Africans.

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