These are Robin Rue Simmons’s answers to questions submitted to all Fifth Ward Aldermanic candidates by the RoundTable.
Question: Please provide information on your educational background; employment/professional background; volunteer and civic activities; and other attributes that qualify you for the position of Alderman of the Fifth Ward.
I was born and raised in the 5th Ward. I attended Faith Christian Academy, King Lab, Evanston Township and programming at Family Focus Our Place. In 2005, I started working full time in the construction field. As President of Signature Construction Services, I successfully completed over 100 projects including two dozen affordable housing properties in the 5th and 8th Ward contracted with The City of Evanston and Brinshore. My company created dozens of jobs and subcontracting opportunities for minority and local tradesmen and helped fill a need for affordable housing and job creation. Currently, I work for Sunshine Enterprises as a Program Manager. We support entrepreneurs launching or expanding local businesses and our focus is low and moderate income entrepreneurs. To date we have graduated 4 cohorts and will begin our next cohort in February 2017. I am also the Weatherization Program Manager for Citizens Greener Evanston. In this role I provide weatherization resources including free building materials, education and energy demonstrations to all residents. I was appointed by Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl to the Minority/Women/Evanston Business Committee and have a strong and consistent voice to improve policy and expand the budget for minority, women and local contracting and hiring. I attended The University of Nevada Las Vegas from 1993-1996 majoring in communications and completed my education with industry specific trade certificates and licenses.
- 2013 graduate of Leadership Evanston
- Founder of Jubilation Way block club (1900-2000 Dodge Ave)
- Advisor/volunteer with Janie’s World (Organization for young parents)
- Past President of Evanston Black Business Alliance
- Sunday School Teacher
- Youth Minister
- Family Focus Imani Award Winner
- Connections For the Homeless Executive Board
- 2014 Woman of the Year National Association of Professional Women.
Question: What would be your top three priorities as Alderman? What would you do to advance your priorities?
Economic Development: I believe all residents deserve employment opportunities; I will work to attract businesses that will increase the tax base and create quality jobs for our Community. I will bring my experience as a small business owner and local business advocate to city hall so we can create local, livable wage jobs in Evanston. I will continue working to enforce our minority/women and local hiring and challenge community businesses to make the same commitment of 25% minimum. I will also identify vacant and underutilized commercial property to expand retail and other commercial use opportunities for local entrepreneurs. I will work to support the existing businesses with grants and fair loans for facade, interior renovations and Citywide exposure.
Neighborhood Safety / Families: I will continue to make violence prevention in our community a top priority. Additional streetlights throughout the Ward to improve safety and visibility on our blocks at night will be an immediate initiative. Increased community/police engagement and outreached to disengaged residents will also be important. Families including young parents, seniors and individuals with invisible disabilities must be supported. Young parents need access to childcare and other support to stay on track, all families need access to childcare options outside of the traditional 6pm pickup, seniors need support to stay in their homes and safer street and transportation and families and individuals with disabilities need to be included in our community design and enrichment.
Affordable Housing: I will work with our City Council and staff to expand the services offered to families and senior seeking affordable housing. I want to increase our number of homeowners and expand rental assistance programs. A return of an improved first time homebuyers program, down payment assistance and other purchase incentives for moderate income families is needed to stop the exodus of young families including 3000+ Black Evanston residents over 10 years. I will work to incentivize developers to exceed our current inclusionary housing goals and create a new inventory of quality affordable rentals. There is an immediate demand for affordable senior housing and I will work to find community partners to development more units.
I will listen to my residents and be a their voice on City Council. It is key that the community, my neighbors, play a big role in developing policy and priorities. I will continue to meet with stakeholders such as clergy, business owners, the staff, and community organizations who already play a large part in the day to day of the ward.
Question: What are the top three challenges facing the Fifth Ward? What would you do as Alderman to address the challenges?
Our top 3 challenges are the same as my top 3 priorities, Economic Development, Neighborhood Safety/Families and Affordable Housing. I will work to improve engagement and encourage more diversity on committee appointments and keep the community informed. I fight for a more equitable and just ward and will continue that as Alderman. I believe economic development in the ward will require more integration… resources not just going to downtown Evanston but to residents who live west of there. So, I will continue to fight to see resources allocated fairly.
Question: What should the City do to address youth violence? Is it doing enough, should it do things differently?
Violence is a desperate reaction to a situation for which you feel you have lost control. Youth violence in Evanston has been borne out of desperation and it won’t go away even with the harshest policing. I also want to make the job of our public safety officers easier. I believe that we need to make the economic conditions better in Evanston. This is a product of structural issues that Evanston, a progressive city, should be at the forefront of the fight. We need to make sure everyone is paid fairly, given an opportunity for housing, and also that capital is flowed not just to the city center but to everyone. As a 5th warder, I have seen the last 40 years of failed criminal justice policy. I have seen little to no improvement for residents. The Summer Youth Job Program is certainly inspiring and a big commitment to this concern, it would be nice to expand this program beyond the summer months and also create opportunities for our youth to explore trades and other technical careers that can provide a livable wage to graduating seniors not attending college. My work with the Community Business Academy and the Construction industry has highlighted the need to support trade and technical careers and entrepreneurial opportunities. We have graduated several ex-offenders that had barriers to employment and now have growing businesses and are inspiring their peers to try a different way. Strategic and clinical responses to trauma from violence for our youth and their families is an area we need to improve in.
Question: What should the City do to promote economic development in the Fifth Ward? Is it doing enough, should it do things differently?
A new and innovative program that is enriching the 5th Ward is the Community Business Academy. We have seen an increase in local business development as well as increased awareness in conscious consumerism… shopping local. We have much more work to do to promote Economic Development. We need to support our ward businesses more with existing funding and support, this includes facade improvements, interior renovations and marketing the ward businesses to the broader community. We need to seek businesses that provide goods and services and recycle the dollar in our community. We should have a bank, full service restaurant, fresh produce market and more retail space. We should be more intentional about local hiring preferences and we should not have to leave our ward for everything. We are disconnected from much of much of what the City is celebrating as it relates to livability, walkability and our celebrated food scene. We have great opportunities for development here in the 5th Ward!
Question: What do you think about police-community relations in the Fifth Ward? In the City?
There is a perception that the police and community relationships within the City of Evanston is different depending on where you live. In the 5th Ward my goal will be to create a new culture. We have dedicated Patrol and PST Officers who understand and are responsive to the community, however as a community we cannot ignore the recent incidents of poor policing and bad judgement and we must hold those officers accountable with our voice.
The police should continue working to engage the community and we need to increase community input on policing and public safety. That is both localized ward issue and a citywide issue. It is time to be innovative and that starts with the community. I must say this… the gun violence we experienced in the 5th Ward would not have not been tolerated in any other Ward. The community, the police, staff, educators, residents, business owners, organizations… everyone would have taken more ownerships and urgently demanded peace and safety if the violence we experienced was not in West Evanston. So, yes, we celebrated a homicide free summer but my children will never forget the sound of the gunshots outside our window as early as 10am and late as 3am and as many as 3 shootings in as many days. I will never forget the feeling of 2 minutes of panic not being able to reach my daughter knowing she was walking home in crossfire. My neighbors children will always remember being held on the bus while police officers with guns with pointed canvass the block. This would not have escalated in any other Ward.
Question: Name some things the City should do to preserve or create additional affordable housing.
We need to expand homeownership opportunities outside of the current ordinance. Downpayment assistance and other income qualifying purchase programs for moderate income families is an immediate need.
Do you support Evanston’s Cradle to Career initiative and partnering with community organizations to increase opportunities for youth? Please provide your views.
Yes. The vision of this organization is consistent with my vision for all residents. ABC Booster Program has measurable results for 3-5 year olds and they have been effective in reducing summer reading loss. Community partnerships and collaborations are necessary to build self-sufficient and socially responsible adults and Cradle to Career has the right partnerships for success. This organization need more time to reach the goals but the vision is clear.
Question: How should the City promote equity?
I will go back to some of the core principles of my story in which I worked on bringing affordable housing to the ward using government programs, fighting for families to afford to live here with a minimum wage increase at the county level, and I work to help grow small businesses in the city. 5th Ward families should experience the same livability as the rest of Evanston. I love downtown Evanston, but I love the 5th ward even more. This is my home and I continue to work to make it as livable as the rest of Evanston.
Question: The City has taken steps toward becoming a sustainable City. What will you do as Alderman to promote sustainability in ways that will be affordable for all residents?
I currently provide weatherization and other energy saving resources for low income and other “hard to reach” residents. In this role I demonstrate DIY ways to weatherize homes and provide free building materials. I educate residents on cost saving actions and connect them to other sustainable initiatives including edible gardens. I will work with staff to continue the good work of the Office of Sustainability while focusing on outreach to the most vulnerable residents. I will look for innovative programs and funding to make options available more importantly affordable to all residents and work closely with organizations in town focusing on promoting sustainability.