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One focus of the Reparations Subcommittee meeting on July 10 was the need to provide a historical basis to justify the spending of City money for reparations. The Subcommittee also discussed a proposal to form a Stakeholder Reparations Authority to recommend ways to use reparation funds in the future, and they touched on a plan to use reparation funds to help existing homeowners and seniors.
Last November, City Council decided to deposit into a Reparations Fund up to $10 million in City tax revenues collected from the sale of recreational marijuana. Council also created the Reparations Subcommittee and asked the committee to consider the viability of two recommendations: 1) housing assistance and relief initiatives for Black residents in Evanston and; 2) various economic development programs and opportunities for Black residents and entrepreneurs in Evanston.
Three aldermen serve on the subcommittee: Robin Rue Simmons (5th Ward); Peter Braithwaite (2nd Ward); and Ann Rainey (8th Ward).
The Historical Basis
Ald. Simmons said Dino Robinson, the founder of Shorefront, has been working with a team to put together a historical summary of the City of Evanston’s past discriminatory policies and practices. “That is going to be absolutely necessary for us to advance this work so our legal department has what they need to protect the work and protect the policy,” said Ald. Simmons.
Mr. Robinson said he and Dr. Jenny Thompson, Director of Education at the Evanston History Center, were asked by the City to put together a report providing evidence of the historic policies and practices, both governmental and societal, that discriminated against Black people in Evanston. The draft report which is still a work in process is currently about 43 pages.
Mr. Robinson said upfront they are not providing opinions or pushing a policy in the report, but providing factual information that various groups in the community could use in their efforts concerning reparations.
“We borrowed heavily from three sources,” said Mr. Robinson. First, he said, David Warners 1924 study called a “General Survey of the Negro Population of Evanston,” discusses policies and practices at the time that, in essence, regulated the growing black population. Second, he mentioned Larry Gavin’s articles in the Roundtable concerning the creation of a segregated Evanston between 1900 and 1960, and then the closing of Foster School as an attendance-area school as part of District 65’s desegregation plan in 1967 and then the closing of Foster School altogether in 1979. Third, Mr. Robinson referred to a series of articles by Andrew Wiese, who wrote on Black housing and white finance in Evanston and several other suburbs in the country.
“In each of these, you can see the pattern of [things] that were done in Evanston by the City government and through just societal constructs throughout Evanston’s history,” said Mr. Robinson.
The report also draws on information gathered by Mr. Robinson and Shorefront, who have been gathering information on Black people’s history on Chicago’s North Shore since 1995. It also draws on information preserved by the Evanston History Center and the Evanston Pubic Library.
The draft report “covers topics of redlining, segregated practices, employment services that are both public and private, schools, housing and zoning policies, policing, lawsuits, and current protests,” said Mr. Robinson.
Mr. Robinson added that the Subcommittee “may want to refer to the section that deals with housing and zoning, especially the land clearance policies that were put in place that destroyed black communities throughout Evanston. Historically, there was not a black community, so to speak. Families and residents lived all throughout Evanston. And what we’re able to see and track is a distinct pattern of these pockets of communities throughout Evanston, being zoned out and forcibly moved to one area of Evanston. And I think this document really kind of lays out that case.”
Mr. Robinson said the timespan of the report covers the period from the early 1900s and runs to contemporary days, and they hope to complete the report in a month.
“Once it’s done, it will be made available on the city’s website, reparations page website,” he said.
Nick Cummings, Deputy City Attorney, said City staff are still looking for some official minutes of City Council meetings and specific ordinances. “We are still working to make sure that we have the strongest evidence possible to make this successful,” he said.
Ald. Simmons said preparing a solid historical record to support reparations was important “because we understand that it could be challenged.”
She added that the down-payment assistance program that would provide up to $25,000 to a household buying a home in Evanston remained a priority of the Subcommittee and that the criteria to qualify for the program had not changed. The criteria to qualify are that the applicant be a Black resident and either “suffered discrimination in housing as a result of City ordinance, policy or practice, or is a direct relative to a Black Evanston resident who resided in Evanston between 1919 and 1969 who suffered discrimination in housing as a result of City ordinance, policy or practice.”
Ald. Simmons said at an earlier meeting that the City’s law department prepared the criteria. She said, “We have to deliver this program in a way that it can be defended based on the documented historical policy, practices and actions on behalf of the City of Evanston …”
Stakeholder Reparations Authority
At the Subcommittee’s June 12 meeting, Lionel Jean Baptiste, a former Evanston alderman and current Cook County Circuit Court Judge, presented a proposal to create a Stakeholder Reparations Authority that would be community led and that could provide an on-going structure to recommend how to use reparation funds in the future.
On July 10, Ald. Simmons said Judge Jean Baptiste had submitted a detailed written proposal to the Subcommittee that laid out a process under which the Stakeholder Reparations Authority would gather input from the community, make recommendations to the Subcommittee, which, in turn, would make recommendations to City Council.
“So ultimately, the City Council is going to vote on everything that we recommend in this Subcommittee,” she said.
Ald. Simmons said it was important that the recommendations on how to use the reparations funds come from the Black community. She said the Stakeholder Reparations Authority would likely have standing appointments from historically significant institutions in town which could include the NAACP, the Foster Senior Club, and “historical institutions, which are largely our religious organizations, our churches, the Black churches in Evanston.”
“So it is recommended that these institutions would have a standing voice on this committee.”
Ald. Simmons asked the two other members of the Subcommittee for their view on Judge Jean Baptiste’s proposal. “It’s my opinion that we need to institutionalize a process so that it can advance and still invite a very public process just like we have now,” she said.
She added that it would not take away from the Reparations Subcommittee that would still be led by Aldermen from the Fifth, Second and Eighth Wards, which, she said, have the most concentrated population of the Black community in Evanston.
Ald. Braithwaite said the proposal mirrors the Community Block Grant Development process. “I’m in support of it moving forward.”
Ald. Simmons said once the language of the proposal is finalized, it will be brought back before the Subcommittee and discussed publicly.
Addressing Existing Homeowners and Seniors
Ald. Simmons noted that community member Carlis Sutton had said that the Subcommittee was overlooking existing homeowners and seniors.
She said the first reparation’s remedy was a housing remedy and she was hopeful the Subcommittee would designate the first $400,000 from the Reparations Fund to go toward the down payment assistance program, and that it would also include a way to “support our longtime residents, our seniors, and others that have been here and sustained our community for so long.”
Ald. Rainey said a financial institution was going to assist the Subcommittee in developing the down payment assistance program, which will provide up to $25,000 for a homebuyer. The financial institution may also provide input on ways to help seniors and other homeowners needing assistance who want to stay in their homes and renovate them.
Ald. Simmons said she hoped the Subcommittee would have more details on the down-payment assistance program at its next meeting, and also a proposal on how to assist people to remain in and renovate their homes.
“Right now we have vulnerabilities in our Black community because of predatory lending, the trauma of the housing crisis and the Great Recession,” said Ald. Simmons. “We have COVID-19 on top of everything else that we’ve dealt with, [which has caused] additional financial devastation in the Black community, in addition to this disproportionate health impact.”